Designing for Value Systems: Part I

Last week I led a 30 minute, focused conversation connecting the readings on dark patterns in UI with the mission statement and value promise of JUST – our partnered client in this years Capstone projects.

The goal was to make assumptive leaps around what other values we could tease out of the organizations message – values that might pertain to the organization, the clients, or both. And then to see how these values emerge, or don’t, through examples of dark and light patterns in user interface design.

Setting the Stage

I wanted to preface the conversation and activities with two takeaways I’d had from our introductory session with JUST President and CEO, Steve Wanta, and their Director of Design and Research, Erika Ortiz.

They both spoke about using intentional friction on two levels – to create space for mental slack, and also to nudge toward a desired behavioral outcome that would be beneficial to both JUST and their client. Additionally, there was a curiosity around wanting to understand how JUST could manufacture role models or ‘aha’ moments to inspire, educate, or empower.

I wanted to present both of these takeaways as something to hold in the back of our minds as we moved through several exercises.

Activity #1 – Making Value Assumptions

Lauren read aloud the JUST mission statement and value promise. Using Scattergories boards and a sand timer, we took 3 minutes to unpack what values might be important to JUST and their clients.

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Sean added these to a white board as we called out one value at a time, crossing off duplicates as we went.


As a facilitator, it was exciting to witness the energy and curiosity that created. While I intuitively grabbed the game on my way out the door, I hadn’t anticipated how it could be structured into the conversation until we were all interacting with it.

We were all surprised to see how many we had come up with as several of us expected to have the same set of answers. There were some hmm’s and ahh’s.

The conversation that followed led us into how and when we consider a person’s values – at what stage of the ‘design’ process? Does it begin when we engage them in conversation? Is it when we start to move from problem space to opportunity space?

Activity #2 – Matching Values to UI Design

Using some of the examples from our readings of bad UI as well as several examples of good UI – that the internet graciously culled for me – we asked ourselves two questions:

Based on this list of value assumptions, does this example support, reinforce or engage a user in their values? Or does this example negate, subvert or devalue a user based on these values?


The exercise created room for conversation, particularly around those examples that weren’t so easily placed:

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We closed out the conversation with a question borrowed from the Liberating Structures library of exercises. By then we’d run out of time to reflect on this together. In the future, I would anticipate this potential outcome and print a takeaway so folks could consider this on their own time, and perhaps spark conversation down the road.

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As I understand it, good facilitation is a product of thoughtful preparation – considering what the boundaries of the conversation should roughly be, what activity could promote understanding, curiosity or engagement. It also requires leadership – to know when to reel a conversation in, to push it forward, or pull in perspectives that might be missing.

In writing this post, it was tempting to set down words that are buzzy – that make sense on a “smart” level. But when I step back to think about the experience, I take myself back to the feeling. What did I feel during that process? What did I notice in other people? What was the energy? What was the vibe? The tone? When were people engaged or disengaged? What visual cues communicated this to me? Did they like it??

Facilitation Rubric

This diagram is a rough stab at visualizing what goes into thoughtful preparation for me. The questions I’m asking afterward are similar to the questions I’m asking at the outset. How can I set a stage with these in mind?


Here are a few things I would refine in the future:

  • Include a clear objective and takeaway on the slide deck! Since I was using one it would have made sense to clearly state this and use the deck as a tool for helping people digest the goal and the desired outcome.
  • Get into the activity quicker to allow more time for group reflection and conversation, both during and after.
  • Tell people what they’re in charge of rather than asking them to volunteer for roles. Everyone is expecting, and needing, that kind of take charge confidence.
  • Prepare a takeaway in the event your conclusion builds toward reflection, or something that begs further consideration.

If you have additional thoughts on how I could build or improve on the activities listed above – please reach out to me!



It’s been a minute (since Q1) since I wrote a reflection post. And at the time I was full of nerves and had quit drinking coffee because it was making me too anxious. Q2 was much better because I realized I was in charge of my own success. And failure. So I made sure to fail in the ways I was comfortable with (I’m not staying up late drawing things; I was an art major, I’ve done that) and striving in the ways in which I wanted to grow (how do I make a concept model of impostorism? How do I tell a story people will care about?). I also began drinking coffee again.

And we’re officially in the last 2 weeks of Q3 and I have a ton of wireframes to do today so this seems like a great time to procrastinate reflect. Also because last week was hard. I got some family news I wasn’t sure how to process on Tuesday. I thought about skipping class that night. I went climbing at Austin Bouldering Project with a friend, changed clothes, and drove straight past AC4D. On purpose. I took a deep breath, turned around and drove to Springdale General and drove past the school. Again. I never do this. I normally just go to school for every class, there’s no decision to be made.

In the end, I went to class and I was glad. I went to all the other classes that week without any sort of indecision and we threw a failure dinner on Friday night which I did most of the prep for. (To be clear the dinner was not a failure, it was a successful dinner with 6 attendees who shared and celebrated stories of failure.) And Saturday we had studio and I was super distracted and felt like I was dragging my team down.

I felt so done, so exhausted. I’d felt done that morning before class. I thought about it and I’d felt done since Tuesday. Why? Oh, right, the family news. I’d been plowing through the whole week with no break. With that knowledge, I bought myself a comfort food dinner (Whole Foods soup bar beef chili over a baked sweet potato and topped with all the sour cream), lit a fire in the fireplace and curled up to drink wine and watch Fyre documentaries. (Okay, just one, the Netflix one.)

In this program, justifying breaks can be so hard and filled with so much guilt. Right this minute I could and probably should be emailing people follow-ups and building out wireframes and updating my landing page or creating a demo and working on a more in-depth service blueprint or 2 and creating/updating 2 presentation decks and scheduling something like 15 user interviews this week.

But I do not regret my breaks (including this optional refection blog post). It might all get done, it might not. It certainly won’t get done at the level of fidelity I’d prefer. All I can do is hope I’m learning what I need to be learning and know that all these things are first iterations and I can redo them for the portfolio if I need to.

Week Seven (Seven?!) Reflections

Two days after my last Reflections blog post we got an email from Ruby saying that they were no longer mandatory but if they help then of course we should keep blogging. And I thought, “I like them, I’m going to keep doing them.” And then three weeks went by.

After I felt like I needed to toss the rules out the window in Theory/102 I made my presentation using Harry Potter as my analogy to talk about poverty. I didn’t even mention the authors! And it was fun so I was excited to present it, which is something that was missing in my previous presentations. And besides getting good feedback from Scott, a guest faculty member and my peers after class, I actually felt proud of it. I really went home and gave the presentation to my husband because I was that excited about it. Poor guy.

In our 101 class, learning how to theme has been a challenge. We’ve had something like 2 weeks to be theming but I feel like today I’m starting to get it. This afternoon the advice we got from Jon/Matt/Scott sort of clicked for me. We present to our client in like 40 hours. We’re not going to be able to theme all of our utterances before presenting. We’re just not. Or, we’re not going to be able to theme all of them AND get the sleep required for a healthy lifestyle.

I’ve also talked to my mentor twice in the past few weeks and she’s really great. The first time we talked I joked that timeboxing was just another way of never finishing anything. She said that was true but also it was good because it means I’m moving forward in ALL the things. And it prevents me from hyper-perfecting one thing and letting everything else lapse. I agree with this in theory but when it’s crunch time I’m definitely only focusing on one thing.

We talked this week and I asked for her advice on theming and she gave me some great getting-started tactics. And she gave me two helpful bits of advice. For theming, sit with the data. It takes time and being there in the room and doing the thing. The second thing she said was, this is the fun stuff. There are plenty of parts of this entire process that she didn’t like but theming is something she really enjoys.

Next week is the final week before Q1 ends. Which means 3 presentations and a review with faculty. Am I already nervous? You betcha. But I keep reminding myself of Scott’s advice to our class on Thursday: to approach this week with kindness (for ourselves and others), with patience (for ourselves and others) and with rigor. Wish me luck!

Week 4 Reflections

Apparently we’re halfway through Q1? Scott mentioned that in our Theory/102 class on Thursday.

We had another assignment and presentation due in that class this week. We had to take all 8 authors we’d read and place them on an axis of designing for/designing with and then create another axis of our own choosing and plot them along that axis as well.

It felt like I was making a very personal assertion. It felt vulnerable that I chose an axis of “where the designer is in the process” and then placed the authors on it. I can tell you now that that’s not what came across in my presentation. I still got the feedback that they wanted to see more of my perspective in my project.

I also realized I took a too-literal approach to the assignment. I could have taken the info I’d absorbed and placed my take on it regardless of the actual assignment instructions.

It reminded me of a design project in college where we had to do 4 stages of a page layout. Stage 3 was the final layout, Stage 4 was “break all the rules.” I went wild! I applied filters to my photo, I made my line slanted, I made the header neon pink! My instructor said, “No, that looks great, that’s your 3rd stage. Now go break all the rules.”

I’ll keep you posted on how I show more of my perspective in my next assignment!

Making the Grade

In one of my earlier blog posts during orientation I wrote that I was worried about failing. We were told constantly that we’d fail in the beginning for the simple reason that we don’t know what we’re doing. After all, if we did, why would we be going through this program?

I’ve been graded on 3 assignments so far and on the first two I got a 54 and a 61. I texted my sister about it and she said, “OMG are you okay?” She thought that I would be devastated by my grades. I was not devastated at all! The 54 was the find a business/sell them your plan/develop a research plan/present it to the class in fewer than 48 hours project and, uh, we did it. 54 points is over half of the possible points! For a a thing I didn’t even know I could do!

The 61 was for a presentation on super dense readings we had done and I felt underprepared and uncomfortable, at best. So a 61 was better than I expected. Plus, room to grow, amirite?

Yesterday we got our studio/drawing grades back and I was fully prepared for my 50-something grade– and I got a 79. Y’all. Apparently I overshot- I got so good at failing that for a split second I was disappointed because 21 points is not very much room to grow!

Other notes on this week: I need to get faster at transcribing, stat. I need to prioritize the readings for the 102 class better because they take so long to absorb. I actually did all my daily object sketches! And I joined Austin Bouldering Project because I think 25 minutes on the wall or in their sauna just might keep me sane over the next few months.

Week 2 Reflections: Still not drinking coffee

I’ve always thought of myself as relatively laid-back. I prefer chilling to being active, I like my drama to be on television—not in real life, I’m calm in a crisis. But ask me to present a six minute presentation and I spend a whole calendar day spiraling into anxiety.

I don’t know what I’m so afraid of! Physical pain? Death?! I’ve literally been calmer when a bee has landed on my face or a coral snake slithered next to me while I’m hiking. Here’s the thing, though. If we were broken into groups of 3-4 and I had to do the same presentation? No nerves. I’d be so cool you could skate on me.

At any rate, what I learned in my feedback is that I made my presentation harder for myself. I made a simple Keynote presentation and relied heavily on my memory and notes. I should have made a more robust presentation and let that do the heavy lifting. (I was also told that while I presented the information in a clear way, I didn’t include my own perspective. Apparently understanding these dense readings isn’t enough and I have to actually form opinions about them?)

Other things that happened this week, in no order: we did our first interview! • I wish I’d put more time into sketching. I enjoy it so I made myself do my more unsavory tasks first but then I didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d have liked on sketching. • “Working sessions” are a procrastinator’s dream. Come to class and then do everything I should have done before I came to class? Fantastic.

Baptized with a Boot

The end of the beginning hath arrived. We have completed the orientation week. This week of assigned work was not even close to the difficult part but this, without doubt, had plenty of challenges.

What I appreciate about this week is the confirmation that no workshop or online course can teach all the skills we just experienced. Working through the challenges first hand exposes all the shortcomings we need to build upon. I can see how the pressure will quickly reveal strengths and weaknesses.

On this day, we surveyed to validate the key assumption of our MVP. I felt a bit more confidence and purpose. We set a target number of 100 samples. The pressure to find 100 people got me in focused mode. Our group’s biggest challenge was finding a narrow group of folks who ride the bus with their bikes. Our group made two breakthroughs by casting out an online poll with SurveyMonkey and by making our actual in-person survey digitized with SurveyMonkey. Good times was briefly interrupted when we got booted out of a sweet coffee shop. We’ve been told getting bounced is a right of passage at AC4D. We were baptized with a boot.

Had fun participating in a video confessional “Between Two Ikea Plants” with Zev, Catherine, and Cristina. Hope it lasts.

Looking forward to meeting more alumni, hearing about their after-AC4D stories, meeting next year’s challenges and working with everyone.

Day 4 Vignettes

The new challenges just keep coming. At this orientation, the name of the game seems to be practicing and committing all these activities and skills to habit. What a lot of skills there are too. Sketching and storyboards were introduced today. Sketching and storyboarding is a comfortable and enjoyable activity for me. Throw timeboxing into the storyboarding mix and it’s another new challenge to start practicing.

The latter half of the day involved preparing the validation of our current best idea. In the past, hearing about starting/running a business always made sense, but only when someone knowledgeable in the subject is around to explain things. I have a much harder time parsing entrepreneurship on my own (for now.) I hope to change that soon.

We’re set to go back out and interview tomorrow morning for another round of data. We will be hunting bicyclists.

(addendum) I wanted to come back and add three things I had to process a little more. These eye-opening lessons stood out as valuable: ideas are free, framing value, and key assumptions.

The discussion began when a student asked “Aren’t you afraid of someone stealing your idea (when you pitch to and survey people.”) The answers were really interesting. One answer, that ideas are free, sums up the lesson that some ideas need to exist and be real before they can have or provide value. Making ideas real requires several drums of work sweat and we’re just getting a mist of that experience. Additionally, we were told that almost all pitches have been heard before or recycled. Wow. Isn’t that a kick in the face?

What I mean by framing value is specifically about the process of testing your big assumption. At the end of your pitch, you have to gauge what value your assumption will have on the market. Gauging the value to test is probably the pitfall the team fell into. The economics lesson we were given is price and demand do not necessarily correlate. You either charge something greater than a penny or not. The other side of the lesson was framing the (value) survey such that the audience is aware the actual assigned monetary cost is not what we’re after but whether there any value (monetary, time and/or effort) can be tied to our key assumption.

Identifying the key assumptions versus the working assumption appeared to be a common mistake among the teams. I found it interesting because it seemed to tie back to this message we’ve been repeatedly told. Making these assumptions and leaps can and will be uncomfortable. We seem to hope to justify them. I understand WHY we are making these assumptions and yet I still sense the unease. Confidence is such mind fuck.

So working in groups is hard, now what?

Keep working.

Today is the first day we drew. Was it Drawing 101, draw some white boxes and cones and cylinders? Learn to draw shadow and perspective? NEWP. We sketched vignettes (a single page drawing that clearly illustrates your idea) of the ideas we created yesterday. Then we sketched storyboards of those vignettes. Buses and people and buildings and hands and mobile phone screens.

I was pretty proud of my first vignette and I went to ask the instructor for feedback on one of the elements I’d struggled with and the first thing Pat asked was, “Why is this scenario happening?” UHHH…

This is the second day in a row I’ve paid attention to the instruction, heard the clear message and went straight into my small group and did exactly what we were instructed not to do. (It might be the third day in a row if I’m being honest with myself.) Yesterday obviously we needed to make the risky inference about the data, of course! Did I nearly start categorizing the data according to general topic? Yup! Today we were told to pick the best idea, not the easiest idea to draw. What did I gravitate toward? Ideas that could be clearly communicated visually.

Luckily! I’m on a team and they picked better ideas. After drawing our vignettes, we chose one and split up the various scenes for the storyboard and drew them on our own. Thankfully, no one went into Pictionary mode, aka This Is What I Would Have Drawn.*

Later we learned about the process of creating a product and how to apply the MVP (minimal viable product) notion to our ideas so we can present them out in the real world tomorrow. (Unfortunately I’m headed to Houston tomorrow for a funeral so I’ll miss seeing this data in action but I look forward to hearing about it.)

Something Jon said on Day 3 was that we’re building this scaffolding out of the data, our inferences, our themes, our insights, our ideas and we’re literally continually building upon them as though they’re sound structures. They may or may not be. And this is how we find out.

It’s simultaneously scary and exciting.

*This is not my joke, I saw it in a stand-up show ages ago.

Clearance on All Red Trucks

Today was day four of orientation, and I thought the previous day was challenging.

We filled this day with practicing sensemaking. Today did indeed finally make sense, but the details took quite a bit of time and effort to grasp. In my personal experience, my previous attempts at learning design thinking always crumbled with sensemaking and pattern building. The tactics and high-level approach were taught essentially the same, but the goals were not articulated nearly as well as Jon and today’s exercise accomplished. The dots to connect started with the red trucks and sentimental value comparison. My problem has always been red trucks. Stay away from useless unactionable red trucks.

Despite struggling, it was a concept to grasp onto, but as my team slogged through several random selections of quotes, an emotion began to emerge, followed by a human need. We kept second guessing ourselves. Is this right? Is this how we’re supposed to interpret this? I would drop the quotes and start over with another. We shared interpretations, and someone made a joke about sounding like a commercial. I love drawing analogies, and the joke made me think about defining marketing benefits. Jon made a comment earlier in the day about listening to a transcript but missing the visual vibe and behavioral cues. Reframing the exercise a bit more I switched from visualizing the mood of the quotes as commercial clips to vignettes or scenes from a movie. What theme would I arrive at if these appeared throughout a film? The next dot connected and thoughts about emotions and human needs naturally lead to the next dots. This is storytelling. This is a narrative. The team was able to build momentum off each other, but it was still a challenge.

When Jon presented the next assignment, there was a slight bit of personal relief. Coming up with 50 plus ideas feels much more familiar. Familiarity doesn’t make it easier. Its still plenty of work to do.