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. 

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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.

 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pacing, an idea emerges.

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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.

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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.

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Together, they get where they’re going.

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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.

 

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. BMISS.org

 

Frustrated in the face of inequality

Over the past number of years in my adult life, I have had compounding experiences which have led me to become more and more disillusioned with the inequalities that human beings face on this planet.

I have traveled the world to learn about issues that people around the world face, and how they are approaching problems in their own ways. But ultimately I have been left feeling powerless to be a part of any sort of solution.

My focus has gradually shifted from being concerned more with the outcome of my own life, to being concerned with how to position myself to be the most impactful to create a better world for all lives. This is not a small burden to take on. I have often felt extremely overwhelmed, depressed, and powerless in the face of what seem to be endless problems of inequality, misunderstanding, greed, and ignorance.

In reading Margolin, I was most affected by the framing of the “global situation”. Our expansionist societal trajectory is something that I have toiled immensely over, but never had the vocabulary to articulate in terms of design frameworks. The idea of a society which succeeds in attaining an equilibrium seems extremely far fetched to me, and that we have defended too far down our own rabbit hole of capitalism to ever dig ourselves out. But the sentiment being described in terms of design thinking is new to me, and sparks a moment of hope in me that others have the same thought process as me.

I took this as an immediate direction to the Pilloton reading, which emphasized proximity to a community in order to understand the nuance of their problems. I inherently believe in concept, and I really value being a part of a community, as well as working with that community in order to create sustainable change. In my last full time position I worked for the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation planning events for their public park. I hoped that I would be able to see the impact of my work on the ground with the communities I was serving, however, a lot of the impact of my role was clouded with the politics of non-profits, budgets, partnerships and funding. I also became disillusioned with the way this particular non-profit was affecting adjacent underserved communities near downtown city limits. I was shocked by the way that these issues were being essentially not being addressed, or actually being ignored in public dialogue.

I was also moved to feeling by the various articles about non-profits on both a local and international scale. Before coming to ac4d I heavily explored my desire to make a career of the non-profit sector. I started off in the arts thinking that I could make a difference in that realm, and after getting fully spent of the pettiness and corruption of arts funding, I moved on the environmental non-profits, only to experience similar kinds of leveraged relationships, emphasis on numbers rather than actual impact, as well as lots of turn-over in staffing and chaotic leadership. It left me feeling very disdainful about the effectiveness of non-profits all together. I felt that this was particularly addressed in Hobbe’s article about international development, which addresses this issues but, even takes it a step further when these operations that are essentially missing the mark upscale. Scaling only escalates the emphasis on numbers, dollars and appearances completely at the detriment of actual impact or fulfillment of their mission.

While all of the authors that I already mentioned somewhat validated feelings that I already had about how to approach issues of poverty, the one that I will likely take with me the most in my future as a designer and as a “social entrepreneur” was Yunus. Yunus is the author that left me with the most hope. The idea of a social business being self sustainable seems like the most likely way that I, personally, will be able to live a financially sustainable lifestyle, be creative and innovative, while also attempting to affect change to a wicked problem. I lean towards wanting to activate the Bernays in me to build a social business which uses elements of subtle persuasion, but persuasion for what I believe to be social good. While I know there could be unintended consequences, I believe that our global situations are all reaching a head and that we MUST take direct action, and we MUST have courage and fortitude in the face of the worlds problems. Or else there may not be a world left.

Saving the World

A lot of people want to save the world– especially those of us who have grown up without want and in a safe and loving environment. So many of us want to help, but what we’ve been learning and discussing in our Theory class through the last set of readings is that helping is complex. Any action one takes, or change one makes in the attempt to better the life of another, is going to have implications. There are always possibilities for unintended consequences.

There is also nuance. What works for one community might not work for another. Or, maybe it will work for a while, but the solution isn’t long-lasting.

When reviewing the work of seven authors, I’ve done my best to formulate and then figure out how to articulate my own thoughts on helping those in poverty. The authors we have discussed believe:

C.K. Prahlad: While the poor across the globe do not have much money, there are a lot of them. By creating a product they will need or want and selling to them at scale, there can be a mutually beneficial situation. The poor have more than they did before and the seller can build their own wealth.

Dean Spears: Econometric analysis has found that decision fatigue really is a thing–and for the poor, it’s further compounded. With less money at their disposal, every purchasing decision a person experiencing poverty has to make, the more stress and fatigue they experience. This means they are more likely to loose discipline to make good decisions faster than someone without the same financial burdon.

Roger Martin: Defining what “Social Entrepreneurship” means is important as the term gains traction. a Social entrepreneur is someone who builds a business that solves a market problem and sustains itself with earned revnue, but at the same time is making a positive impact on society.

Muhammad Yunus: Yunus pioneered the practice of “micro loans. He found that in very poor countries, people were unable to receive loans from a regular bank as they had no collateral to offer. He found, however, that by loaning small amounts of money to people and instilling a sense of responsibility in the entire broader community, 97% of the loans would be paid back.

Emily Pilloton: Proximity is key. One cannot know what is needed for a population without first becoming one with the population. Pilloton believes one must live the experience before they can improve it.

Victor Margolin: Big, messy, wicked problems are not always solvable. One solution may lead to other new and unexpected problems. It’s important to define what the problem is, and the dimension of the problem. This will inform the dimension of the needed solution.

Michael Hobbes: Solutions to big social problems don’t often scale. Every community is different and every problem is nuanced.

My personal opinion is explained through the story below.

 

This is me.

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I’ve got a big heart but I’m pretty low key. I work a 9-5 job, and on the weekends I like to hang out with friends and mostly keep to myself.

I have a Friday night ritual of stopping by the gas station, buying one Lotto ticket, and then watching the local news until the numbers are announced and then heading to bed.

One night, I’m dosing of as I hear 5-3-5-6-1-1-2. Wait, WHAT!? I can’t believe it. Those are my numbers. those are all my numbers!! I feel like I’m on cloud 9.

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I start to think about all of my options. I could buy a yaht, or a mansion, or go clubbing in Ibiza, but what I really want to do is use my money to help others who are less fortunate.Presentation1

I look for nonprofits to donate to, and choose several with missions that resonate with me. I feel good giving the money away, and even better thinking about the lives I’ve impacted. After several months I follow up with the nonprofit and ask how the community is doing where I made my gift. I’m so saddened to learn that the nonprofit has stopped serving the area! They said the area wasn’t improving, and rather than keep trying to make an impact, they wanted to cut their losses and find another area that might be easier to help.

I can’t believe it.

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I wanted to help people. and my money has done nothing.

This time I decide to take matters into my own hands. I wonder if maybe those in poverty just don’t have the tools they need. Maybe they need a plan to follow to make improvements in their community. Bono has been getting a lot of press lately for bringing PlayPumps to African villages. Water is clean and much easier to access, and kids get to play on the PlayPump, and their energy produces the water. How cool is that?  If Bono is in I’m in.

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But then, after a couple of years, I stop getting update letters. Once again I stop hearing from the organization so I check in. It turns out that while this worked for a little while, it wasn’t a sustainable solution. The PlayPumps have been abandoned and the community is arguably worse off than before the PlayPump was installed! I just can’t believe it.

My last attempt is a rather new idea, and I think it will help empower the people receiving the money as opposed to dictate how the money should be used. I begin to make micro-loans. One in particular I make to Tom. He makes hats and he needs a sewing machine to be able to make more of them.Presentation3

My investment goes ok, but the next year when I return Tom has only been able to make a few more hats that he did the previous year. He said he’s selling more but he doesn’t want to make so many that he can’t sell them.

To be honest, I’m happy Tom is happy, but once again I’m so disappointing.  I wanted to make a big impact. I wanted to give my money away and have it improve the quality of life for someone else. Presentation4

I give up, go shopping, finally take that trip to Ibiza, and live a mostly unfulfilled life.

What I didn’t realize, was that Tom’s life DID change… slowly.

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Slowly, over time, Tom was able to build his business, and eventually leave that legacy to his daughter. The change didn’t happen quickly. But over time, situations changed, the world became more global, Toms town grew, and my investment in Tom had set him up for slow growth and future success. Tom saw some of the gains, but his child saw even more. I wanted to make a big impact and change the world, but I wanted immediate gratification form that change, and that was pretty selfish. Change take time.

How to Help People: A story in pictures

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Click here to see the presentation. Below is a description per slide.

  1. Vickie is a designer. She works in the big city at an agency called Second Domain. (Margolin)
  2. She’s a good designer, but she’s unsatisfied with her work. She doesn’t get interesting projects at her company. Her most exciting work has been for toilet paper and nasal decongestant packaging.
  3. Vickie is tired of being a pixel pusher. She’s familiar with design thinking and wants to make a difference in her work.
  4. The thing is, she can’t get a job doing design thinking work. But she is very smart and enterprising, and gets an idea.
  5. Vickie is from a small town, and her family has been asking her for a while to move closer to home. She thinks moving back will be a good opportunity to volunteer and try out design thinking with her community.
  6. She knows being present is the only way to make a true difference. (Pilloton)
  7. She moves home and gets involved with a local charity that gives food and clothes to the poor. She has a bunch of ideas about how to improve their service from learning about other development projects.
  8. But she discovers that ideas are not one-size-fits-all. (Hobbes)
  9. She realizes she needs to give them the power to choose. (Prahalad)
  10. Vickie adjusts her approach, and they happily ease into co-design.
  11. A year later, Vickie and the charity are progressing. She’s learned a lot, but she wants to move back to the city soon.
  12. She believes she could train her colleague Lomelda to take on her work. 
  13. Lomelda is from a poor background and has a troubled past. (Spears) Others think Lomelda isn’t a natural leader, (Martin & Osberg) but Vickie disagrees. She sees promise in her abilities.
  14. She trains Lomelda and gets her resources to be a design leader. Lomelda does great.
  15. Vickie moves back to the city, happy that she’s helped other people help themselves. (Yunus)

Exploring Ownership of Park Spaces in Austin

Let me ask you a question: what’s your park? Is it the pocket park at the end of your block? Is it a splash pad that your kids frequent on Saturday mornings? Is it the trail on the edge of town where you recharge from the city? No matter your preference, you’ve likely found your place – – your park that feels like home.

For the past month, we’ve been working with Austin Parks Foundation exploring how Austinites develop this feeling of ownership towards park and more interestingly, how those feelings of ownership affect their actions.

Austin Parks Foundation (APF) is a non-profit dedicated to developing and maintaining outdoor spaces in Austin. For a city with a culture so devoted to fitness and green spaces, Austin parks are surprisingly underfunded. APF attempts to bridge the gap between what park users need and what the city is able to provide through fundraising, volunteering, and events.

Our ultimate goal as designers is to present APF with a new understanding of their stakeholders and identify problem areas that they may not be aware of. To achieve this, we are starting with 30 hours of contextual inquiry, interviews, and activities, with 19 Austinites in the park they call home.

With our focus on ownership, we wanted to find folks that have a strong connection to parks, so we posted on NextDoor, Craigslist, Facebook, asked PARD and APF, and ultimately found participants that fell into 3 groups:

  1. People who have limited access to green spaces and come to parks to commune with nature or do outdoor activities;
  2. People who take action to improve public green spaces; and
  3. People who use public space to participate in organized activities.

We interviewed a forager who uses parks as a source for herbs for medicine, a frisbee coach who uses parks to train his athletes, park adopters who dedicate hours of their week to improving their park, and much more. Below is a peek of five of the 19 stories we uncovered — all names and identifying information have been changed to keep our sources anonymous. 

Meet our park goers

Robert

Robert

Robert is an artist whose home studio looks out at his neighborhood park. From this vantage point, he has a clear view of the day-to-day activities of park-goers. However, he doesn’t just observe the park from afar, he’s frequently in the park connecting with other park users and just as often out and about in his neighborhood chatting about local issues.

He has collaborated with several local agencies to fund and park improvement projects and has a few more improvements in mind for the future. In several years of living next to his park and advocating for his neighborhood, he’s learned to navigate overlapping civic and non-profit organizations with the help of more experienced mentors.

He told us about his vision for the park. “We planned on cutting through the bamboo to make it a trail for dog walkers and cyclists… You can walk to the side of the pond, but you can’t do a full circle. So we were talking about putting a bridge across and creating a nice path through the trees.”

As we toured his park with him, Robert pointed out areas for potential improvements and also discussed the complications of balancing the needs of neighbors experiencing homelessness who have at times sheltered in the park with the concerns of neighbors who are worried about impacts on the park and the neighborhood.

Madeline

Madeline

Madeline moved to Austin 9 years ago and found the core of her community by connecting with others in parks. She joined a local community garden and established friendships through time spent in the gardens and creating other opportunities to come together with events like potlucks. 

“A community garden can be like a microcosm of like everything else going on. You have different political affiliations, you have different genders, all different kinds of people coming together. So it’s a microcosm of your community, which is a good thing.”

Now, Madeline is more likely to spend time in parks with her husband and young son. They visit splash pads and playgrounds or just get some fresh air on an evening walk after work. She’s more likely to schedule time in parks around existing friends and family than to meet new people. 

She still highly values parks and their potential to turn strangers into neighbors and friends. Madeline thinks Austin should invest in parks and gardens as spaces for people from all walks of life to come together, learn from each other and share with each other while reaping the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Bryan

Bryan

Bryan is a native Austinite who has been planning cyclocross events in Austin parks for seven years. A father of two daughters, he wants his cycling events to be more than just a competition — he wants to create a community where attendees can bring their families, friends, and hang out all day.

“I wanted this to be like a Roman Colosseum. [. . .] Music, announcing, basically everything is right here, just going around you. [. . .] I wanted people to be here, and feel no need to go somewhere else.”

To achieve this, he’s put a lot of effort into his events. From hand-cutting ragweed with a machete to booking food trucks and beer sponsors, he’s 100% hand-on. He’s developed a strong relationship with Travis County Parks, too, something he could not do with Austin Parks & Recreation (PARD).

“It’s very refreshing working with them. Travis County Parks has a ‘can do’ attitude. My partners in the parks […] understand that I’m responsible, that I’m willing to go the extra mile when it needs.”

While Travis County is a great partner, their parks are unfortunately on the outskirts of town. He understands the limits PARD faces, but still wishes that he could plan events that are more central. But for now, he’s counting on Travis County expanding their parks instead of trying to work with PARD.

“I’ve gone the path of least resistance with Austin PARD.” — and for Bryan, that means not working with them at all. 

Wes

Wes

Wes is a 24-year-old software engineer who resides on Austin’s East Side. His park experiences are focused around playing basketball whenever and wherever he can. He recently started looking at purchasing a house and told us he was scouting out the neighborhood on Google Earth to see what parks would be in walking distance to any new properties. When we asked him to draw us a map of his park ecosystem, it was no surprise that almost all the parks had a basketball court. He adamantly proclaimed

“It’s a staple of an American Park to have a basketball court.”

He plays multiple times a week, sometimes with friends or at pick up games, but also sometimes just to clear his head. In the past, he and his friends would walk 25 minutes in the summer heat to get to a court where they could play a full-court game. This was because the closest court to his then residence was missing a backboard. This isn’t the only issue he has taken up with the facilities around town. At his now local court on the eastside, he told us…

“One issue with this side is the tree is hanging over the court, you can’t really do a fair, full-court game. Like someone’s going to be a disadvantage on that side.”

When we asked him about reaching out to the city to get some of the issues fixed, he said he had thought about it before, but never actually reached out. He was telling us that he would not be opposed to donating to help improve his local park too, but he wasn’t sure if he would ever see the results.

“I really want to know, how can I make a difference? [. . .] Is it really going to make a difference where I want it to? Is that me being selfish by wanting to improve one park that’s close to me versus improving the parks in Austin as a whole? ”

Summer

Summer

Summer and her partner Jake have been hosting an electric circus in Zilker Park going on their 10th year. They are old school Austinites who embody the “Keep it weird” motto every day. When we were gathering some basic demographic info about them like getting their age, we got the quirky response of

“I’m 14 going on 52.” from Jake, and “I’m 736, but in this life.” from Summer.

They are both really proud of the community that they have built through their park festival which showcases people experimenting with flow arts, like hoola-hoops and rolla-bollas, where the tagline of the party is where you are the star

“That’s how you get to grow the community. You show it to new people. Basically the park is an audience. They don’t know they are the audience, they don’t know they are going to be the participants either.”

They love to share their experiences with anyone who is interested, and use the festival as an opportunity to lead by example. They do a roll call before dusk to get all festival-goers to clean up the site so they can leave the park better than they found it. They also like to leave an emotional imprint on people as well. At another public festival called  The Fairy Trail, Summer told us a story about a mom and her daughter had been coming to see her for multiple years in a row. The little girl came up to Summer and wanted to thank her for giving her fairy blessings every year, so the girl said it was her turn to give Summer a blessing.

“I knelt down there and the little girl gave me a blessing and blew glitter on me and I started crying. It was the cutest thing ever.”

Next Steps

With our research wrapped, we are now focused on finding themes among our participants. With a desire to design with — and not for — our participants, we invited a few into the studio to help us interpret our research. Stay tuned in two weeks as we present our findings.

Stories from the Field: PeopleFund

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For the past three weeks, my classmates Zina, Vickie, and I have been working with a nonprofit called PeopleFund. PeopleFund is a nonprofit that creates economic opportunity and financial stability for underserved people by providing access to capital, education and resources to build healthy small businesses. Inspired by their mission statement, we wanted to learn more about how they are helping entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed.

Through contextual inquiry, we learned about the experiences of both PeopleFund’s clients and the employees of their Education team. Through interviews ranging from one to two hours, we learned about what brought them to PeopleFund and their experiences working there. These interviews helped shape our research focus: to understand how PeopleFund guides and educates entrepreneurs who are looking to start their businesses. Our goals were to 

  • understand how PeopleFund’s culture supports entrepreneurs’ growth,
  • understand how PeopleFund helps entrepreneurs make sense of and navigate the business landscape, and
  • understand clients’ expectations and how the service aligns, challenges, and influences them.

We spoke with six PeopleFund employees and four users. Our users ranged from Jonas, a software developer and IT expert who is launching his own franchise, to Agnes, a UX designer working to help low-income populations eat healthier. Each user was unique, and sought out PeopleFund for different reasons, but all made use of PeopleFund’s Bloom Lab, which is one of the cheapest co-working spaces in Austin.

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Jonas is one entrepreneur who works with People Fund. They have helped him prepare for the grand opening of his business, sending out marketing emails and promoting on social media. They even designed his flyer. He is glad they can help him in these areas, because, as a self-proclaimed introvert, he knows that networking and connecting with people will be his biggest challenge.

Jonas works regularly out of the Bloom Lab space. “When I come in and start working, I am able to get my things done, no problems. Facilities are pretty good, so I never have problems with coffee or microwave, water or anything,” he told us. And the staff is very responsive. “It’s very easy to access them,” he says. “If they’re not here physically, they respond very well to emails pretty quickly… I get responses right away.” Granted, the space isn’t perfect—he laments the lack of privacy for phone calls or one-on-one meetings. This is a complaint that we heard from many users. In addition, he often wishes he could enter the building outside its 9:00-6:00, Monday-Friday hours. He finds that he often wants to work on weekends—a common attitude among the entrepreneurs we spoke with.

“I was like, oh my god, dear god, people show up,” Brandi told us, recalling in fear. “I don’t know if we had any workshops that had zero people, but we definitely had some that had like, two or three.”

Although the space is only open during those hours, many PeopleFund employees work long after the doors close. “If I could have my cats here, and a slightly less formal dress code, I would just live here” an employee named Gina commented. Work-life balance, like at many nonprofits, can be a struggle, but there is a genuine desire to help people, no matter the costs. “I care about that [these] people,” said another employee, Lena. “So if they want to stick with it, and they’re willing to work, and they don’t make themselves really unpleasant to work with along the way, heck, I’ll stick with them forever.” Many entrepreneurs are referred to the organization by the city of Austin, and PeopleFund provides them with six hours of free business coaching. However, if a client is making progress, they can provide more hours, and they often do. “They typically can’t go over the six hours, but we might still work with them anyway. And for some people, we’ll just ask and vouch and say they’re still making progress,” another employee tells us. “We still want to meet with them.”

In addition to one-on-one advising services, PeopleFund hosts workshops across the state. They offer various educational curricula, and they frequently partner with banks to promote financial literacy and help small businesses get off the ground. Running these workshops can be challenging, as there is often limited lead time, and conflicting priorities sometimes lead to what one employee described as “oversaturation” of workshops. This, combined with limited time for promotion, sometimes leads to poor attendance.

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“I was like, oh my god, dear god, people show up,” Brandi told us, recalling in fear. “I don’t know if we had any workshops that had zero people, but we definitely had some that had like, two or three.”

Balancing between the demands of events and clients’ individual needs can be tough. We learned that city of Austin clients are asked to rate PeopleFund’s services, which leads to a culture of fear and makes it difficult for staff to prioritize their time. “If I’m not as responsive as they’d like me to be, they can rate me a 2 versus a 10,” Marcia informed us. “So it’s like, you have to really be on it at all times.”

As at many nonprofits, responsibilities blur, work hours can be long, and limited finances add stress. Space is limited at the Bloom Lab, and this causes scheduling difficulties for both clients and employees. However, these pains are common for organizations that have seen such rapid growth. As Gina remarked, “When I started here, we all worked downstairs in the bottom corner of one building. We didn’t even heat or air condition parts of our building, because we were so small. And to see what this has become…” Her pride was unmistakeable.

We presented our finding to PeopleFund this morning. Many of the insights were not surprising to them, but they were pleased to see their users were happy with the facilities and the services they receive. They acknowledged a potential need to be more proactive with clients in offering services, but the difficulty of balancing that with their other demands is a challenge that will need more nuanced consideration. They also acknowledged the space constraints, and hoped we might be able to provide some insights at a later date to better address the situation.

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Most of all, they were pleased to hear the stories of their users. When we told them how Jonas had started his business as a way of giving back, they nodded in agreement. PeopleFund provides critical services for those looking to start small businesses, but its ethos and culture fosters a particular audience: one that aims to help the underserved. PeopleFund supports those who don’t otherwise qualify for lending from major banks, helping all who are interested in pursuing the “American Dream,” no matter their financial background. Many of the employees who work there have seen business failure firsthand and felt the effects of failed businesses on their parents and families. And many, like Jonas, have come from modest beginnings and now have the ability to start businesses that aim to help others.

PeopleFund’s Education team is critical for providing the information necessary to find business success. “You know, a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, I could do business,’ because that’s like the American Dream, right?” Marcia told us. “I can own a business. It’s so easy,” she said, explaining a typical client’s rationale. “But I don’t think people realize the maintenance that you [have to] have on how to sustain yourself.”

More information on our interviewees can be found here.

A Story of HOPE at East Austin’s Only Farmers Market

A Story Of HOPE at East Austin’s Only Farmers’ Market

We’re a small team of designers on the beginning of our path to understanding interaction design and applying it in real world context. We’ve been conducting research for the past several weeks at a small farmers market in East Austin, Texas. The goal of our project is not to pick out problems or successes within the market but to observe and analyze the way this grassroots operation at Plaza Saltillo in East Austin functions as a whole. Myself and my team-mates, Lauren and Leah have visited the market weekend after weekend to better understand and embed ourselves in this ecosystem. We’ve spoken with the directors of the market, it’s vendors, and its customers. We have learned a wide variety of information from these parties and are reading into each piece with equal value to really get a feel for what it’s like to participate in this market.

As Austin grows in population day by day so do the dynamics of the city. East Austin’s number of multi-level apartments have started to cast a shadow on this once sleepy, sun-soaked market square on Sunday Mornings. As we’ve watched and documented the set-up of the market through tear down in the afternoon, we have seen that the clientele is just as diverse as the vendors themselves. Few farmers markets in the city offer the use of EBT and SNAP benefits like HOPE does. While some come to the market to utilize their SNAP and EBT benefits, others stroll through to purchase CBD products, juice elixirs and listen to eclectic tunes. There’s something special about HOPE that sets it apart from the rest of the farmers markets in Austin.

Through in depth one-on-one conversations with organizers, vendors and customers we’ve gained invaluable information into the happenings of the market. We are at a point where we are putting these people’s stories forward to paint a better picture of what HOPE Farmers Market really is.

CUSTOMERS

Melissa – “What the f*** is turmeric?!” shared this first-time market goer. Melissa and her dog Sunny sat with us for an interview on a balmy 100 degree afternoon. Melissa had googled things to do on Sundays the night before and ended up on a bench in the shade at HOPE. She sat down with us on a bench under the veranda and shared a bit about who she is and how she ended up at the farmers market that day. Melissa credits her sister as being the “farmer’s market person” in the family. She explained to us that she had trouble understanding how to “work a farmers market”, and that she didn’t intend on buying anything that day. She also explained that she usually shops by color. Once she became more comfortable throughout the conversation she openly admitted she was intimidated by the farmers market experience, but that she enjoyed the relaxed vibe of HOPE. She hopes to return once she understands the flow of the market a bit better. To her, HOPE felt laid back and actually appeared to be more of an artist’s market than a true farmers market. She also was interested in finding out more about the dog related products that the vendors had to offer because she leads a “dog-centric lifestyle”.

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Lindsay – We spoke with a cyclist passing through the market on her way to Barton springs. She came to visit the kombucha dealer of the market but her voyage was to no avail. She was perplexed at there only being one cold drink vendor on this toasty Austin summer afternoon. She recounted with us the early days of the market and how it has changed from an eclectic warehouse spot to Saltillo Plaza over time. She explained that she usually makes an effort to stop by HOPE. She’s usually just passing through or meeting someone for coffee, but she elaborated that she finds HOPE to be a valuable asset to the community and hopes that it doesn’t die. When we went through her bag with her to see what she brought with her that day, she realized that she had brought a lunch with her to the market. She didn’t plan on buying any food there.

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Bertha – The third customer we spoke with came to the market with intense direction. A resident of the neighborhood for twenty years, Bertha walked through with her sickle in one hand and her son’s hand in the other. Bertha shared that she was coming by to shop for groceries and also to get her sickle sharpened at the knife sharpening stand. She uses her sickle to cut her front lawn and “threaten her neighbors”. Bertha made a few quick comments about the high-rise complexes in the area and her fear of drones delivering groceries to nearby apartment patios. She said that she generally didn’t feel like a part of what was going on in the neighborhood anymore and she generally kept to her own corner. That being the market and her front yard…

Our stories from the field continue with a glimpse into the lives of vendors of the market;
Jessie – We were fortunate enough to meet Jessie, an entrepreneur and immigrant with a personality as sweet as her products. We were able to visit Jessie in her place of preparation at a nearby commissary kitchen to watch her prepare the goods she brings to the market. Jessie shared her heartwarming story of why she uses the ingredients she does to provide a sweet yet health conscious treat to those who seek it.

Jeff welcomed us into his home, which also functions as his lab space, stock room and partner’s art studio. Operating out of a tiny apartment near downtown Jeff, an engineer by trade, shared his real reason for making quality CBD products. He and his mother have sensitive skin, and have always struggled to find products that they could use. He first tests all of his products on his own body. If he is personally happy with the product, only then will he sell it at a market. While he has plans to scale the company, and sell both white-label and wholesale, he says he will never leave the farmers markets behind. He’s in this business for the positive effects he can have on others, and nothing compares to being able to see that pleasure on his customer’s faces. He explained how much he has learned about the CBD industry as well as his excitement for a booming new industry. It’s a time for CBD, he explained, that is very similar to the days of the wild west.

Lastly, we spoke with an employee of the market, Amber. Amber is a roaring ball of energy who openly shared many details of the market, her love of farmers markets in general, and her personal motivation for showing up every Sunday, even in the heat. She and her family come in from their own farm out of town to run the show. Amber brings her shining personality and passion for humans weekend in and out. She sees to it that the front and back end of things are taken care of, so that vendors have the ability to focus on their products. She sees her role in the market as an opportunity to let others flourish.

Through these deep conversations we were able to learn much more about what motivates humans to return to this tiny farmers market on the east side. We shared a few of these stories with our client and we were met with a positive response. The staff of the market works tirelessly, and doesn’t often have time to step back and evaluate. They loved hearing vendor and customer feedback. As we work towards synthesizing the data included here along with 12 other interviews, we hope to find threads and patterns that will generate insight into what the market can do to evolve.

Adventures in Sketching

When we first started sketching classes at ac4d I thought I would quickly feel successful at representing my ideas visually. I often think in visual metaphors rather than words. And I spent tons of time in elementary school, middle school and high school (and maybe even college) doodling all over every available scrap of paper. In college, I was conducting interviews for an on-campus job, and one of the people we hired, Mei, ended up becoming a good friend of mine. Years later she told me she’d never forget my intent notetaking during the interview and how nervous it made her. But as we were concluding the interview, I set my clipboard down on the desk revealing it was actually covered in drawings, not scathing critiques. 😳

Getting back into sketching I fell back onto some old habits of using stick figures and symbols. In the first week, I hated the stuff I made so much that I didn’t save any of it. (I now regret that.) But even my stick figures have been tuned up since starting this class. The stick figures below have little detailing that allows you to position their heads more intentionally, direct their gaze or change their body language. Adding circles for hands and feet makes them feel more finished. But in a semester-long sketching class, I knew we weren’t going to stop at rendering humans as stick figures.

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Our first figure drawing class had us drawing people breaking them down into heads, shoulders, hips, and feet connected by a centerline. A not so secret trick that felt like a revelation. With a few small shifts in the hips and shoulders, I could create different versions of people that conveyed body language differently. These are a few early attempts. Not quite nailing it yet.

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Next, we added fleshy body features and clothes. This next image is about halfway to a having real body.

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I loved the way that building the frame of the body first could free me up to sketch different body positions easily without as much guess and check work (drawing it a little wonky and then starting over from the beginning). These quick outlines are both very expressive on their own and an essential foundation for fleshing out a person more fully in a way that feels anatomically accurate.

In the images below you can see faint pencil marks from my first attempts. In the first of the sequence, my first lines put the head and torso more directly over the hips, but looking at my finished product, I realized that with the leg extended so far, the torso and head needed to be further away from the leg for a realistic balance. In the second drawing, the hands and foot were too close together, so I redrew them further apart. I also noticed that drawing the shoulders and arms in perspective was challenging. Which should appear closer? How to make them look the same size and length? How to draw the shoulders? I tried to find reference photos of yogis doing this pose, but most were just perfectly 90 degrees to the camera/illustrator. I wanted to be able to illustrate this on a different plane.

 

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I also found it interesting to try to illustrate bodies in ways that pushed the limits of the linear structure. I drew several figures in different versions of child’s pose. I was also experimenting with different ways of doing the mouth, eyes and nose. I used the linear framing for the first (bottom) and my later attempts were modifications of the first figure with less use of the body framing.

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After drawing these side angled and asymetrical figures, I returned to the straight on, symetrical forms and drew a few more people. Hands, wrists, ankles and feet are still areas I’d like to improve on, but I was pretty happy with how these turned out overall.

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I’m enjoying experimenting with different ways fo drawing hair, facial features, and altering proportions (bigger heads, wider set eyes, different musculature). I also am enjoying drawing figures with less clothing or no clothing, so I can focus on the bodies rather than how clothes drape on the body.

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As much as I enjoyed sketching forms and objects the last couple of weeks, drawing humans has been really fun. I love seeing a person come alive on the page with a personality and back story that I might not have imagined when I first put pen to paper.

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 16personalities.com, “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.

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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 16personalities.com

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.

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Afterthought.

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.

 

 

 

 

*Readings:

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