Design Research Studio: Transition Design

Exploring and understanding the applications of transition design as a fourth year design student at Carnegie Mellon University. For the first half of the semester, I’ve learned techniques to tackle wicked problems in relation to air quality issues. In the second half, I’m transitioning to research Pittsburgh food accessibility.

I couldn’t be more excited to start this semester’s studio class given that the focus is on transition design as well as service design and social innovation. In this course, we’ll learn how to research and design interventions around wicked problems at differing scales. This new course in the School of Design is being led by Stacie Rohrbach (Communication Design Lead), Terry Irwin (School Head) and Stuart Candy (Futurist).

Here’s a brief description about the class taken from the syllabus:

Excerpt from the class syllabus, introducing the course topics and goals.
Our goal is to gain insight into approaches and methods that aid the study of factors affecting the harmony between ourselves and the environment…

This class poses the question: How do we transition entire systems to more sustainable futures?

Sketchbook notes, beginning of lecture on the first day.

August 28th, 2017: Introduction to Transition Design

Today, we got a very quick crash course on what we’d be studying this Fall and most importantly, why. Why should we care about transition design as soon to be graduates? What even is transition design?

Terry helped ease us into learning about the subject by reintroducing some core principles of systems thinking which we learned freshman year. She got us thinking about how systems exist within larger systems. The School of Design, for example, has its own culture and system (a single holon) that exists within the College of Fine Arts which is under the larger whole of Carnegie Mellon as a university.

Notes on systems being holarchic.

Creation and Consequence

As designers, we need to be very aware of how our creations impact the way the world works on multiple different levels. One quote that Terry brought up today really stuck with me:

Consequences radiate out from whatever you design.”

We have to start building up our awareness of how the world functions. If you look at a diagram of the transition design framework, you’ll notice that the different areas (Vision, Theories of Change, Mindset and Posture, New Ways of Designing) are mutually-influencing and co-evolving.

Image of the transition design framework and what each section means (source).

Solving for Wicked Problems

When we work in the space of transition design, we’re working alongside two global systems: Sustainable Futures and Systems-Level Change. When we’re tackling wicked problems, we have to realize that the solutions can not be solved within just the discipline of design. It’s critical that we know early on how important it is to welcome insight in from fields outside of design. Today in my HCI class, the professor highlighted how design has roots in many other subjects: social psychology, anthropology, history, learning science, and the list goes on and on…

Notes on how we understand the world and how solutions for wicked problems are never right or wrong.

Terry reminded us that interventions for wicked problems should never be thought of as right or wrong — only better or worse.


I’m looking forward to learning more about research methods and how to use them in different contexts. In User Centered Research and Evaluation, a HCI core class that I took last Spring, we had a similar class structure where we broke into smaller teams and worked on a unique problem related to the city of Pittsburgh — transportation, food access, water, air quality, etc. I hope that the themes for this class differ from that a bit…but I’m guessing they’ll likely be the same. Either way, I also hope to get a good, solid understanding of how service design and social innovation works. My learnings in Studio will probably help out a lot in my other classes (Designing User Interfaces and Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Technology).

August 29th, 2017: Donella Meadows Reading

“Counterintuitive. That’s Forrester’s word to describe complex systems. Leverage points are not intuitive. Or if they are, we intuitively use them backward, systematically worsening whatever problems we are trying to solve.”
— Meadows, Places to Intervene in a System (Page 2)

This reading, written by Donella Meadows, gives an in-depth understanding of how systems work and how to intervene within in them to enact change.

I really like the quote shown above because it mentions how people tend to use leverage points in the wrong way, causing themselves even more pain in the long-run. Leverage points are areas within a system that have the ability to be shifted around to cause a great impact.

When I read the first few pages of this reading, I was a bit confused…mostly because I don’t have a strong understanding of how stocks work. As I kept reading, the stocks and bathtub analogy made more and more sense to me. It was cool getting to read about negative and positive feedback loops within a system. Learning about “new loops” was also fascinating.

In the text, they mentioned how putting an electric meter in the front hall of the home instead of in the basement caused people to use almost 30% lower amounts of electricity in the house. I’m interested in learning more about these new loops and in what other contexts they’ve existed successfully.

In a nutshell, you keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm, you keep speaking louder and with assurance from the new one, you insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You don’t waste time with reactionaries; rather you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.
— Thomas Kuhn, Places to Intervene in a System (Page 18)

I really loved the ending of the reading where Meadows reminds us that we have to be aware of how paradigms seep into our every day lives and how they work to shape our worldviews. We then have to acknowledge that the idea of paradigms is even a paradigm. If we want to tackle wicked problems, we have to strip ourselves of what we know and what we subscribe to. We need to think outside of our own selves and what feels comfortable to us. There was a line in the last paragraph of the reading about how we should learn to embrace humility. That was a really great reading.

August 30th, 2017: Introducing Project Themes

Today’s lecture was split into two parts. We spent one half of the class time going through a presentation Stacie and Stuart prepared about the 8 themes we’d be looking into over the course of this semester. For the rest of the time in class, we played an interactive game using an app called Kahoot!

We competed against each other in small groups to test our knowledge on what we knew about Pittsburgh’s history. The trivia questions were linked to the 8 themes we’re exploring (ex: air quality, clean water, food access, etc).

Setting Context: General Overview of Themes

Stacie and Stuart gave a presentation on the eight different themes we’d be potentially exploring as a group. The themes for this semester are: access to clean air, access to clean water, gentrification, affordable housing, access to quality foods, access to public education, access to public transportation and the reduction of crime. They briefed us generally about each subject, giving us enough context to do some research on our own.

Below is a copy of my notes, containing highlights from each summary:

Sketchbook notes on clean air and clean water.
  1. Access to Clean Air: Back in the 40s and 50s, Pittsburgh had terrible air quality. The city was coated in a terribly, thick cloud of smog. It would be so dark outside because of the smog, the street lamps had to be switched on during the day. Steamboat traffic in addition to black carbon pollution from factories and highways added to the poor air quality of Pittsburgh. It also doesn’t help that we are affected by pollution trails from Canada.
  2. Access to Clean Water: Pittsburgh used to dump a whole lot of coal and pollutants from factories into the city’s waters before harsher regulations were put in place. The water treatment systems are breaking down. High levels of nitrogen have been found in Pittsburgh waters over the years. Sewage overflow is a massive concern for environmentalists. Every time it storms in Pittsburgh, we are at risk for a sewage overflow. Another concern Pittsburgh residents have is about fracking. We might not be directly impacted by fracking here in this city but people are still very much concerned about it. The biggest challenge that activists face in this space is funding.
  3. Gentrification: As a class, we discussed what constitutes gentrification. Gentrification occurs when affordable housing to low-income residents becomes unaffordable. Usually, the housing is replaced by nicer homes or a new shopping district moves in. When the first Whole Foods came into the neighborhood, the city had to get rid of over 200 homes.
  4. Access to Affordable Housing: Pittsburgh has been seeing higher rates of gentrification happening around the city since the housing here is arguably so cheap (compared to cities like San Francisco or New York). There are plenty of job opportunities as well in the tech scene. Many large companies (ex: Google, Amazon) have already moved in and we’re seeing an even bigger rise in start-ups around town as well. With more and more people coming into town to snag up these jobs, the prices for housing are on the rise. Low-income residents are having trouble paying for their homes.
Sketchbook notes on the other themes we’re studying for this class.

5. Access to Fresh Produce: Many people in Pittsburgh struggle to find their next meals on a daily basis. So much of Pittsburgh is surprisingly in a food desert…If you live in a food desert, you’re over a mile away from the nearest grocery store. If you live in a rural area and are in a food desert, you live over 10 miles away from a grocery store. There are places like Jubilee Food Kitchen and the CHS Pantry around Pittsburgh that provide produce and meals to low-income residents. These organizations depend largely on donations (both in money and in food).

6. Access to Public Education: This is one of the largest challenges that Pittsburgh is facing…So many schools recently have been closing (ex: Fort Pitt, Belmar…the list goes on). The problem results from not having enough students enrolled…Many families have been moving away. This could have something to do with the increasing prices and taxes on homes. Community groups (ex: Mad Dads) have started forming to raise awareness about this issue. There’s even a public page on Facebook of Pittsburgh residents who are concerned about this issue.

7. Access to Public Transportation: When I did my project on access to food in Pittsburgh for my HCI class, I learned a lot about the issues of public transportation around town. For many low-income individuals, the bus fare is too high. They can’t afford to take public transportation around town. Many of them also have extremely long commutes because they live in the outer edges of town where housing is cheaper…Many of us college students don’t think about how expensive it is to ride the bus because we get to take them for free. We should realize how privileged we are as a result of that. Recently, Port Authority decided to close off many of the bus routes that go outside of the downtown area. They experienced a severe lack of funding.

8. Reduction of Crime: I didn’t get to take a bunch of notes on this topic but Stacie talked about the high rates of gang violence found in Pittsburgh. We looked at maps that documented cases of crimes and how it related to specific areas of housing which was really interesting to think about. I’d say practically all of these topics are connected in one way or the other…

Photograph from 1944 showing the smog around Pittsburgh (Source).

After getting quizzed on our knowledge of Pittsburgh’s history, each group got to pick their project focus at random. Our team was assigned access to clean air. I would have loved to tackle gentrification or affordable housing but I’m also happy to be working on improving the quality of clean air in Pittsburgh. Pollution is definitely something Pittsburgh is notorious for…

I’m looking forward to researching about the topic and seeing how residents have been combating the issue over the past several decades.

September 4, 2017: Gathering Research on Air

**Will add in my reflections on these images and graphs. I wanted to drop in these photos cause they stood out to me the most as I was researching.

Source: Infographic produced by AirNow on how the AQI data is collected.
Source: “Figure 1: Air pollution emissions continue to drop steadily since 1970 thanks to the Clean Air Act. As the economy continues to grow, emissions that cause ozone and particle pollution continue to drop. Source: U.S. EPA, Air Trends: Air Quality National Summary, 2017.” — American Lung Association
Source: Screenshot of the black carbon pollution found in Pittsburgh.
Source: Screenshot of the nitrogen dioxide amounts in Pittsburgh.

The best article I found while researching the subject:

  • “In my own family, my dad died of cancer of the trachea,” Ford says. “I had a daughter that died at the age of 25 with scleroderma. My son passed away this past October from prostate cancer.”
  • Other residents recite similar lists of family members who are sick or have died of cancers and other diseases, and Ford says they’re starting to look at the coke plant with new eyes. “It’s an awareness now that’s just sparked in us. And we’re ready to listen now and try to do something about it because it’s so apparent to us,” he explains.
  • Clairton Coke Works violated its air permit 6,700 times between 2012 and 2015.
  • A countywide survey released by the health department finds that cancer rates in Clairton are slightly higher than the county as a whole. But the plant’s emissions blow toward Braddock, a small community with its own US Steel facility. Cancer rates there are double the rest of the county.
  • **But can Clairton and other communities in the path of plant’s emissions prove that their health problems are caused by US Steel’s coke plant? According to Jim Kelly, deputy director of environmental health at the Allegheny County Health Department, “that’s exceptionally difficult to do.”
  • “There are so many reasons people get cancer, especially in low-income areas, he says. “You have high smoking rates. You’ve got old housing stock, with lots of asbestos — lung cancer right there. You have low education. You have high unemployment. You have high obesity rates. All of these things are correlated with [increased cancer rates],” he explains.”
“The fight to reduce air pollution has created tension within the local community. “It’s one of two ways,” says resident Shannon Dougherty. “People either feel like I do or they look at people like me, like, ‘You’re trying to take our jobs.’ And that’s not the case at all.
No one wants to take away anyone’s jobs. All we want is for US Steel to abide by regulations.”
Photos of our process board: Documenting the problems in the air quality and pollution space.

September 5, 2017: Ojai Reading Reflection

Transition Design frames issues within larger socio-technical, economic, political and environmental contexts and to view them as ‘systems’ or ‘wicked problems’.
—Terry Irwin, quote taken from the Ojai Briefing Book.

After having spent just a short summer in Los Angeles this past year, I can understand why water sustainability should be a short term and long term goal. I used to not really crave water but after this summer, I somehow now reach for it. I think being in an environment where it never rained really impacted me…

I think coming up with a brief for our project would be really useful! I liked how in the Ojai reading there was this one slide where you could quickly get a sense for why this topic is important to care about, how it affects different systems and why it should be considered as a wicked problem.

Slide from Terry Irwin’s Ojai Briefing Book

Having a brief is great for group projects because we can share it publicly to anyone who is interested in reading about it. If we make it at the start of the project, we can align on our goals and such as a team. We can align on our motivation for tackling clean air quality and more.

I noticed that in the bottom part of the slide, Terry links the water shortage issue to other wicked problems. I think it would be cool if we worked cross-collaboratively with other teams in the class. In our HCI class, we tackled these sorts of wicked problems but we worked very independently by group. There were 3 or 4 groups working on access to fresh produce and we never really discussed our research, key insights, literature reviews, etc. I think we would have gained a lot in sharing our findings.

It’s clear that a lot of the topics we’re tackling, if not all of them, are linked in some way or the other. The issue around air quality is linked to issues accessing public transportation which affects people’s access to fresh food which is largely caused by access to affordable housing for low-income individuals, and so on.

Slides from Terry Irwin’s Ojai Briefing Book, Class Reading

In the above two images, Terry explains how the process begins with 1) Mapping a wicked problem and 2) Mapping stakeholder relations. Having this sort of map should ensure that everyone on the team has a shared understanding of the issue to a certain degree.

In reading the briefing book, I wondered how far in the future we’d be designing for. This project would be more interesting and different than the one we did in HCI if we got to think if short-term and long-term scales. It’d be interesting to make a short-term intervention and then push ourselves to imagine how that intervention might change if we were planning for 10 or 15 years down the line. Maybe even 50 or 100 years.

September 06, 2017: What’s on the Post-it?

Over the weekend, our team spent time individually researching our topic: improving access to clean air. We put together our research (links, images, infographics, etc.) in one big collaborative document for all of us to access and reference later. Our professor wanted us to write down the issues we discovered that are linked to air pollution.

Initial look of our wall space with some early Post-it notes.

These problems be Social, Political, Economic, Environmental or Technical (STEEP). We managed to compile a ton of notes and resources over a couple of days. We filled our wall with Post-its and categorized them into various sections: health risks, general problems, violations, etc.

In class, we revisited our Post-it notes, asking ourselves: “Does this Post-it effectively communicate what the problem is in a clear and concise way?”

It was important for us to make these Post-its simple and straight forward to understand so that anyone could gloss over our cluster of Post-it notes and get the gist of the issue in just a few minutes.

Mapping a Wicked Problem

After rewriting many of the Post-its, we started moving them over to a map. Once again, we reevaluated where these Post-its would go under the STEEP categories. We took groups of Post-its that stemmed from a similar problem and wrote a new label for them, describing the overarching issue.

Technological Issues
Mapping out a Wicked Problem: Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political Issues

September 10, 2017: Notes on Chapra

  • We have to view the crisis that we are facing as one part of a larger crisis. The overarching crisis is really an issue of perception.
  • The social institutions that we are a part of subscribe to an outdated worldview, adding to this crisis of perception.
  • Some of the solutions to these issues aren’t as massive as we think. Some of the solutions can be quite simple but unless we change the way we think about them, we won’t be able to enact them.
  • The leaders of many institutions still fail to see how so many of the issues we face in society are interconnected…We must gravitate towards “sustainable” solutions.
“A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.” — Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute (excerpt from the reading).

I liked this reading a lot but I also feel like it stayed pretty high-level in describing what it’s trying to communicate. I guess this reading didn’t deliver anything super surprising to me but that’s because our curriculum has done a good job of drilling these ideas into our heads already from the start of Freshman year which I really appreciate. This reading felt more of a refresher to me than learning about new material necessarily.

I did like how they described a bike as something “holistic”. It can’t function with one part missing. I’m pretty sure I remember Cameron talking to us about this a long time ago and how it applies to our bodies, the way trees grow and are able to exist, etc.

September 13, 2017: Understanding Stakeholders

Mapping the Hopes and Fears of three distinct stakeholder groups: city budget planners, factory workers, climate change activists.

Last week, we wrote out all the stakeholders we could think of that related to air quality and pollution. For this week’s in-class activity, we were told to pick three very different stakeholders to focus on. Our team chose to look at city budget planners, factory workers and climate change activists.

For each stakeholder group, we thought up what their Hopes and Fears might be. Here are some of the ones we came up with for city budget planners:

Concerns and Fears

Hopes & Aspirations

  • Hope to be re-elected to remain in their positions
  • Hope to get more funding from state and federal government
  • Want to pass policies without much pushback
  • Want to do what’s best for people and partners
  • Want to enrich quality of life in Pittsburgh
  • Hope to reach the annual profit goal

After we created a list of Hopes and Fears for each stakeholder group, we used green and red tape to create a map of relationships. We looked at all the hopes and fears across all three stakeholder groups to see if there were similarities or obvious oppositions. We used the green tape to draw lines of affinity and the red tape for lines of opposition.

Marking relationships between stakeholders. Red represents lines of opposition. Green represents lines of affinity.

Our group struggled to find relationships because the stakeholders had such different hopes and fears but I think that was the point of the exercise — to get us to see how difficult it would be to get everyone to agree. Every stakeholder group has their own mission or path that they’re set on fulfilling. Their hopes are their top priorities. How do you get stakeholder groups to align on one agenda? Is it possible to satisfy all groups and find some balanced solution…?

September 16, 2017: Why Urban Planning Matters

Source: Poor urban planning will lead to increased health risks.
Source: We often don’t think about how these trees and bushes around roads are strategically placed to reduce air pollution. I didn’t know that sometimes trees can make pollution worse.

OnePGH, Resilient Pittsburgh: Plan for Sustainability

“OnePGH is the strategy for Pittsburgh to thrive in the 21st century as a city of engaged, empowered and coordinated neighbors. Pittsburgh will be resilient when our city is livable for all residents. OnePGH establishes a bold vision for the city, building on recent successes and a wealth of community assets, while directly confronting the complex challenges that we all continue to face.” — OnePGH

September 17, 2017: Jungk and Block Readings

I thought both of the readings for this week were pretty interesting. I really enjoyed the one by Jungk about the benefits of running Futures Workshops. I’m hoping that at some point in this project, we’ll get to run a workshop on our topic of air quality with students or people from the greater Pittsburgh community. It would be really cool to get to brainstorm or have a conversation with some stakeholders outside of CMU and have them think up interventions with us.

I thought the most interesting part of the Jungk reading was when the author highlighted how difficult it was to get a group of Vietnamese factory workers to speak up about their wishes for the future. They either were not confident in giving their opinions or they essentially repeated what their bosses would have wanted to hear. I liked how Jungk asked these participants for instances when they had been put down. Here are some of the questions he asked:

  • “As children, did you play as you liked?”
  • “Did you ever tell your parents your dreams?”
  • “What kind of things were you forbidden to do?”

As for the Block reading on how to build and foster a community, I kept on thinking about Facebook and how the service supposedly exists to provide us with a sense of “community”. Facebook has succeeded in connecting people through their platform but I don’t feel like I can say they’ve done a good job at building a sense of community…I’m not sure that people really feel a sense of “belonging” on Facebook’s platform. This part in the reading really struck me:

Source: Block — “Community: The Structure of Belonging”

When I read this part, I thought about this past election and how Facebook unintentionally played a huge role in swaying it. I think many of us prior to this election lived with blinders on (as Block describes it). I’ve heard people say that before this election year, they thought that racism and discrimination was dying down and “not as bad of an issue anymore”. This election revealed to many of us how divided we still are as a nation. I think the problems were always there, but now they’re just more visible to us all. Facebook continues to sell this idea that they’re here to help build one big community…but what I’ve seen so far is a bunch of fragmented ones.

So many of these groups exist in isolation on Facebook and on other platforms of the Internet I’m sure (ex: Reddit). We need to figure out ways to remove the blinders.

September 19, 2017: Learning about Futures

Stuart Candy gave a presentation to the class on Futures Design Thinking. He emphasized how important it is for us to think about the context around what we are designing. For example, when you are designing a toaster, you should be thinking about the larger context of where that toaster might live. What is the kitchen like? What about the utensils used along with the toaster? What is the house like? What about the neighborhood? How does the toaster exist in relation to the fridge, oven, or stove? Cameron got us thinking about this sort of stuff back in Freshman year when we taught Systems Thinking to us. His example with the toaster has always stuck with me.

He also once asked us to draw a tree. After a couple of minutes, we showed him our drawings of trees and he told us they were all wrong. They were wrong because none of us drew the leaves, the branches, the roots, the soil, the ground, the sun, the clouds, etc. We forgot to include the ecosystem that allows for the tree to survive and exist.

Haiku Exercise

We did an exercise coming up with haikus for what the future might be like in the year 2047. These are the haikus I created for the following prompts:

Prompt 1: “My community in 2047.”

“We may be at war. Robots are everywhere now. We should be at peace.”

Prompt 2: “A day in the life in 2047.”

“It is quiet here. The birds are now surveillance. A drone brought my food.”
“When we tried to write about the future, we responded in a range of different modes…” — Stuart Candy

Some of my classmates wrote haikus that were probable. Some of us wrote haikus that were preferable. We all have very different interpretations of what the future may be. We also have to understand that there are infinite futures — Not just one.

Futures Cone: Looking at probably, preferable and plausible futures.
“Any single image of the future, no matter how compelling, is incomplete.” — Stuart Candy

We should have multiple possible responses to how the future might unfold. We have to consider the cultural landscape that we’re in. What assumptions are tied to these descriptions of the future? Can those be challenged?

Linear thinking is a trap!

Every chess game stars with the same configuration and then expands to have almost 280+ billion options for moves that one could make.

When you drop a stone into the water, ripples are created. The same shape is repeated overtime, expanding around where the stone was dropped. These ripples could be thought of as consequences and the stone as an intervention.

Source: Ripple Effect — Steven Hawking

Jim Dator Reading—Caring for Future Generations

The Dator reading was very inspirational. He reminded us of how we got to the world we are in today through different historical movements: ending slavery, ending racial segregation, colonialism, war and deadly violence. In each of these times, there were people who practiced foresight, imagining what the desired or alternative future might be like.

I had never thought of “futurists as architects” before this reading so that was something interesting to think about. I liked how in the end, his message was to go out there and implement your ideas or at least try to. Don’t worry too much about the critics. Sometimes people don’t know what they need or want yet because they’ve never been presented with an alternative solution.

I liked how this reading touched on our responsibility to create a better future for the next generation and so on. I’ve been putting much more thought into what I hope to be doing and making in the next 5 years or even 20 years.

“To be a good futurist, you need to have…”—Jim Dator

September 20, 2017: Creating Alternative Futures

We should recognize that there’s a long delay between when an invention is introduced and when we will start to see the impact (negative/positive) on society as a whole. It could take multiple generations for us to see the impact.

As designers, we really need to be conscious of the kind of work we’re putting out in the world. We should also be conscious the products and services we choose to support as consumers.

Scenarios: The Art of Drawing Boundaries

A scenario is “a hypothetical history — a path through possibility space”. Scenarios first came about through the entertainment industry.

“One boundary we can draw is around the time horizon we’re interested in.” — Stuart Candy

Which futures are we interested in studying? It doesn’t really help to think of or debate only one future scenario.

When we think about scenarios, we shouldn’t think about the world that we want. We should work in an exploratory mode. Our in-class activity focused on creating generic images of the future or “archetypes”.

We took a look at examples from iconic movies. Stuart pointed out to us that many of these storylines are reused overtime.

What are our basic plots for futures? These are four common ones:

  • Growth — in relation to where we are today
  • Collapse — might be due to zombies, economic meltdown, apocolypse
  • Discipline — control imposed from above, peer-to-peer agreement
  • Transformation — technological, intelligence, relationships

What’s the relationship between each one and the others?

We want to maximize differences and consider diversity. We want to seek out the widest range of outcomes.

“History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.”—Kurt Vonnegut

Activity: The World in 2050

In class, we did an activity to practice writing future scenarios. Over the weekend, our team drafted our story for what America would be like in 2050 if continued growth were to happen. Growth could be defined in many different ways. As a group, we thought of growth in a very positive light. We generated ideas through the lens of STEEP (Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political).

Here is what our group envisioned 2050 being like:

We came up with a bunch of different ideas for how growth might affect the areas of STEEP. After that step, we each took on the responsibility of turning these bullet points into an actual story.

Here is the intro and an example paragraph taken from our story:

Growth 2050

States continue to push for greener energy. Political opposition has stymied progress; many believe that the environmental effects of climate change cannot be reversed. Concerns of society’s impact linger. Recent federal initiatives have attempted to address the United States’ environmental footprint; however, it has not been considered at the global scale.


Pittsburgh is fully committed to transitioning commercial, governmental, and residential infrastructure to green energy. More affordable and accessible plans to exchange home energy sources and systems have been provided to Pittsburgh residents. To ensure citizens use greener technology, the city council passed strict fine policies. Pittsburgh council members are preparing to meet the state’s green standards requirement by the year 2060. This information is known to the public; therefore, green technology companies’ stocks are trending and on the rise, but non-green companies’ are spiraling downward. This shift from personal to statewide progress has significantly impacted the city’s economy in a number of ways:

  1. New factories produce green-compliant goods and use automation in place of human labor. Because of this, wealth, power, and resources are in fewer hands; in addition, there is an unemployment spike. Consequently, fabrication and assembly costs are significantly less, especially due to technological advancements. For example, vehicles used for public transit are easier and less expensive to manufacture; transportation is more affordable and accessible to all locals and visitors for a very minimal fee. The price of commuting is now dependent on the mileage to an individual’s destination.
  2. Many of the old factories and plants, once the landmarks of Pittsburgh, were demolished. Employees and locals had protested the factory closures; that is until an abundance of job alternatives began to appear. Now, the utilities and facilities management industries are expanding, offering new employees full-time positions. (Though, standard working hours have been reduced and pay per hour has increased to satisfy new workers’ rights.) In addition, Pittsburgh recently received national funding in support of assisting individuals who pursue careers in sustainability.
  3. Furthermore, cities across the nation, including Pittsburgh, continue to send obsolete technologies (e.g., fuel-inefficient vehicles) to the federal government-funded program CLEANSE, which distributes products to fossil-fuel-driven and developing countries, whose people lack and presumably desire such products. An increase in U.S. exports has led to a rise in national capital, allowing for allocation of state funding. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not yet found an affordable and environmentally-friendly way to transport exported technologies.

September 24, 2017: Hawaii 2050 Reading

I liked how they color coded the four different future scenarios they came up with for what Hawaii might be like in 2050. We should keep in mind that the scenarios we come up with are simply food for thought. They are not meant to define the one future we should subscribe to. When we create scenarios, like the one I showed above (Growth 2050), the goal is to create conversations.

As mentioned in the reading, scenarios are not meant to be thought of as the “preferred future” or as a “prediction”. When we read through scenarios, we should be thinking about the kind of assumptions that are embedded in the story. I wonder if product managers or designers at companies like Airbnb have written up scenarios to help brainstorm new features that people might want in the future.

September 25, 2017: Reading Future Scenarios

We spent our class time reading the scenarios out loud to each other. We heard from all the different groups and what they came up with for the themes: growth, collapse, discipline, and transformation. We filled out this worksheet in response to each narrative that we heard:

While each group read out their scenarios, we answered the first two questions on our own. Then in our small groups, we discussed the answers to the questions 3–6. How probable is this future? Is it a preferred future?

As a group, we noticed that across all stories, people had envisioned that green technology and clean energy would have to become more accessible and affordable to people of all working classes.

On another interesting note, we discussed how we thought the “Discipline” scenario sounded ideal until further consideration. The discipline scenario allowed for a more sustainable city with more jobs, a better economy, and increased standard of living. However, in order to enjoy these benefits, we would have to give up a part of our privacy. The funding for such programs and policies would be coming from companies like Google. It didn’t even seem like the mayor or city council would even have much say in what’s going on in the city. Google would be tracking our behaviors, transactions, etc. I’m not sure that I would want to live in a future like that.

September 27, 2018: What’s the Ideal Future?

This time, our group came up with an ideal future scenario for what 2050 might be like. We focused more this time on our topic of fighting air pollution.

Social: Citizens are happy, healthy, responsible, and safe. They share a common goal for the future which informs their daily decisions. They appreciate ample job opportunities, and wages/benefits that allow them to have an optimal quality of life. The cost of living is also more affordable, with reasonable property taxes. Good public schools promotes STEAM and sustainability within their educational programs. In general, there is less crime, and inmate rehabilitation focuses on community service.

Technological: Our federal leadership is finally pro-green. With the help of government funding, energy grids have started using mostly clean energy and sustainable infrastructure. Fewer people feel the need to own private vehicles with the improved availability and accessibility of public transportation, which is now eco-certified. For those who still rely on a private vehicle, more environmentally-friendly options are available. In addition, investments have increased toward the development of technology that assists in recycling old infrastructure, modeled after Sweden’s waste incineration energy generator.

Economic: Satisfaction is more widespread as the wealth gap continues to reduce. More reliable living wages, an increase in job opportunities, and a stable real estate market, allows the middle class to expand. With a stronger community base, the individual’s mindset shifts from personal to statewide progress. The government begins to fund sustainability initiatives, driving economic growth in various tech industries and providing job opportunities. This especially assists those who previously worked in the coal industry; they are trained for the green energy workforce. As taxing regulations are enforced on the use of coal-based technologies, old vehicles are abandoned and exported to developing countries that demand such technologies. National capital increases as a result, sourcing more funding for sustainable efforts. Additionally, cryptocurrency is more widely used, decentralizing wealth and further reducing the wealth gap between classes.

Political: Sustainability has become a top priority to government officials. The government has enacted many more regulations to reinforce the use of green technology in the city infrastructure and in people’s homes. World leaders are coming together more frequently to discuss the ways they can work together to implement eco-friendly policies. 15 countries have become leaders in this space already as they were the first to adopt entirely green practices.

Across the nation, there has been a rise in moderated political opinions. Blue collar workers, and coal miners in particular, have started to join in on the decision-making process. Their opinions, as well as the opinions of minorities, have gained more visibility. Their concerns are now being addressed directly by politicians. As a result, we have seen a steady increase in both immigration and emigration, leading to a better balance of racial demographics in the United States. Subsidies and health care options have become more affordable and accessible to those who have converted to a more eco-friendly lifestyle. With city infrastructure converting over to greener practices, the states have become less oil dependent.

Environmental: With greener technology and policies being implemented, there has been a decrease in the number of health risks and illnesses associated with air pollution. The expected life span of people and other living organisms have increased a significant amount. Farmers have started to use alternative methods and technologies to protect their crops, decreasing the use of pesticides. Composting foods have become more of the norm as is buying organic foods. We see a trend in people purchasing foods from farmers markets. Efforts have been put in place to safeguard coastal cities and islands that are at risk for going under the sea level as we continue to see the effects of climate change across the nation. Cities have put more funding and care into creating green buildings and spaces. In recent years, many abandoned lots have been turned into parks and public spaces for recreation.

Unfolding a Vision — Notes from Stuart’s lecture

Here’s an overview of what we’ve done so far in this class:

  1. Taken on a wicked problem
  2. Mapped an understanding of how it looks today
  3. Made an effort to appreciate the POVs of those affected by it
  4. Considered diverse alternative system-level context and how our problem could be solved
  5. Created scenarios for ideal futures

Visions are another way to think about scenarios but the difference is that it’s one you’d want. It’s a preferred scenario. It’s important to note that it answers a different question than what is probable.

Last week, we looked at exploratory worlds. This week, we’ve shifted our focus to normative futures. What’s the kind of world we’d want to come about? A scenario set is a contrasting set of possibilities.

When you ask what kind of future someone might expect…you’ll probably get a very pessimistic answer. When you ask people what they want, you’ll find a much more uniform vision.

After generating a vision, we should be asking ourselves:

What kind of transitions would the vision entail and how would that occur? What specifically would need to happen so that these behaviors and systems get put in place?

Starting today in 2017, how could we start to enact change? What do we need to do as an individual or society to bridge what happens between “before” and “after” which represents the present and the future.

Three Horizons Model

The first horizon model represents things that we have today but aren’t built to be sustainable. They won’t be around in the future. The second horizon model consists of what’s going on in the middle between all of this decay and growth. The third horizon model points to things that exist today which might launch us towards a different future.

We’re currently trying to learn more about the second horizon model. But in order to do that, you’d have to research the first and third model.

Source: Three Horizons Model

1st Horizon: Current prevailing system — comprises of fading paradigms and technologies. “Business as usual.”

2nd Horizon: Space of transition — Transition paradigms and technologies. What arises along the way? This includes the conflicts between outgoing and incoming systems.

3rd Horizon: Future of the transition — Pockets of what’s found in the present that will inform us about the future. “The world in transition.”

In this activity, shown above, we looked at what needs to decline, what needs to happen, what needs to be avoided and more in relation to air pollution if we want people to have access to clean air and green energy by 2050.

October 1, 2017: Backcasting the 2050 Timeline

Over the weekend, our group got together to come up with a timeline for what our world will look like in the year 2050. As a backcasting exercise, we wrote down what events would have to occur leading up to the future of 2050.

In our ideal future, Pittsburgh will contain many small scale neighborhoods where residents don’t have to go far for their needs. Most people will be working at home by 2020–2030. By 2050, everyone will be working from home. In this scenario, people won’t have to rely on public transportation to get around because everything should be in reasonable walking distance. Around 2030, we think that the norm will be to get your groceries from local urban farming. Grocery stores will start to support local farmers in response to this trend. We hope that by 2040, all coal mines are shut down in America.

Feedback: When we work with Post-it notes to communicate our ideas, we should really think about a couple things, mostly relating to hierarchy:

  • Is there a higher level statement or two that helps ground viewers?
  • Consider using titles on Post-its
  • Know how much text is too much text for a Post-it note
  • Use color and orientation to your advantage

Our group did a good job detailing our thoughts on each specific Post-it but we may have written too much. We should try to organize our Post-its better next time.

October 2, 2017: Max-Neef’s Theory of Needs

Today in class, we learned about Max-Neef’s Theory of Needs. Here’s the list of needs from his perspective:

  • Subsistence — shelter, food, work
  • Protection — healthcare, insurance, investments
  • Affection — friendship, family, partnership
  • Understanding — education, meditation, groups
  • Participation — association, parties, community groups
  • Idleness — games, free time, speanding time in nature
  • Creation — making art, work, inventions
  • Identity — sexuality, religion, habits
  • Freedom — voting, activism

Needs: Arise from circumstances which motivate and mobilize action

Satisfiers: Planned courses of action that involve being, having, doing and interacting

Design: Tangible result the action which manifests as messages, artifacts, scripted actions and built environments

“As designers, we hardly think about the consequences that designs can lead to. We only intend for that thing to be used for good…In thinking about needs, we might be able identify how there might be consequences…”—Terry Irwin

What is a synergistic solution?

Are the designs you’re creating undermining other needs? How does this design harm people or communities in ways you wouldn’t have thought of?

“…..Solutions aimed at solving complex problems often fail because they inadvertently exacerbate the problem (but go unnoticed because of the level of complexity in the system)…or solve for a single part of the problem which can cause adverse effects elsewhere in the system.
Synergistic solutions are aimed at solving problems at multiple levels of scale and satisfying multiple needs simultaneously.”

The Best Solutions

Max-Neef claims that these two satisfiers, shown below, are the best ones . They help satisfy many needs all at once. We should always be trying to kill two birds with one stone.

We need to ask ourselves: Can the design of “synergistic satisfiers” become a strategy for solutions that are socially and environmentally sustainable?

When the focus and guiding action is based upon the satisfaction of a genuine need, it is easier to find “integrated satisfiers”. It’s often more sustainable.

We need to distinguish between wants and desires and needs. We need to be aware of what we’re putting out there into the world. Can the re-conception of entire lifestyles become a transition design strategy? Can we view lifestyles and everyday life as the context for everything we design? We should enlarge the context for how we design.

Lifestyles used to be more place-based and diverse. Changing lifestyles is crucial to sustainable futures and systems-level change. We need to think about how/what we consume, how we live, how we move, our health, our work, etc. How do the lifestyle scales change between personal, intermediate and broad contexts? As we design, we need to think about what scale our product or service will function at and what needs that thing solves.

The Domains of Everyday Life: The Levels of Scale

The nested domains represent different levels of scale at which needs are satisfied. Holistic principles of emergence, self-organization, wholeness and interrelationship are evident at each level, but manifest in different ways.

  • Household, Village/Neighborhood, City, Region, Planet

We tend to design for the 1:1 level. We don’t think often about how our design could help shift things at the higher level.

Centralized organizations now control our satisfiers. Now, needs are satisfied in ways regardless of place or culture. We aren’t thinking about communities and places. Everyday life becomes homogenized. Groups of relationships are broken apart. There is a fragmented sense of household…city…region, etc.

“Transition design visions are based upon the re-conception of entire lifestyles in place. Communities are human scale, place-based, and globally connected in the exchange of technology, information and culture.”

October 4, 2017: Making Sense of Needs

The Pride Flag satisfies offers protection, affection, understanding, creation, participation, identity and freedom. However, the flag can also inhibit these needs, causing harm to allies and people who identify with the community.

I think from doing this exercise I learned that your biases, perspectives and world views influence how you interpret if the design or experience satisfies needs or inhibits them. We also define terms like “freedom” and “identity” in our own unique ways. The definitions aren’t always the same to everyone.

A lot of times we are ignorant of the consequences created by trying to satisfy our needs.

Researching Possible Interventions

What might need to happen in the near future in order for us to start shifting towards having access to cleaner air?

1. Home Owners Transition to Solar Panel Roofs

How close are we to seeing homes with only solar panel roofs? What is the state of that technology at the moment? What still needs to happen?

I started doing some research on solar panels and was surprised to find this nifty tool on Google. If you give it an address, it’ll let you know how much you could be saving on your electric bill (over a 20 year solar lease).

“Project Sunroof is a solar power initiative started by Google engineer Carl Elkin. The initiative’s stated purpose is “mapping the planet’s solar potential, one roof at a time.”

On Project Sunroof’s website, you can create a personalized solar plan based on your needs: “Solar savings are calculated using roof size and shape, shaded roof areas, local weather, local electricity prices, solar costs, and estimated incentives over time. Using a sample address, take a look at the detailed estimate Project Sunroof can give you.”

I think the way that they break down how this would be impactful and how they’re determining all this data is really interesting and easily digestible.

Some questions I have:

  • What are photovoltaic cells? How are they created?
  • How long do solar panels last for? What happens when they’re unusable?
  • How have solar panels been helpful in natural disasters?

October 8, 2017: Service Design 101 Notes

“Services are intangible economic goods — they lead to outcomes as opposed to physical things customers own. Outcomes are generated by value exchanges that occur through mediums called touchpoints. For example, when you use Zipcar, you don’t actually own the Zipcar, you buy temporary ownership. You use the car, then transfer it to someone else once it is returned. Every point in which you engage with Zipcar is a touchpoint.”

People involved in a service: service customers, service users, frontstage service employees, backstage service employees, partner service employees

This reading mostly reminded me of exercises and discussions we had with Cameron in our Systems I that we took Freshman Year. I remember we filled out the business model canvas and discussed who or what would need to be involved for this service to work. Who are the key partners? What are our customer relations like? What are key resources we need?

I also remember doing the worksheet where we mapped out Chipotle’s service design. We identified the different people involved in running and completing an order (cashier, cook, server, supplier, etc.). From that activity, we labeled where and when customers encountered frontstage employees and when the backstage employees came into action.

Touchpoints: People, Place, Props, Partners and Processes

Questions to keep in mind when thinking about service design:

  • How do we entice service users?
  • How do they enter into the service?
  • What is their service experience?
  • How do they exit from the service?
  • How do we extend the service experience to retain users?

I’m really excited to learn more about service design and how we can use it to tackle wicked problems. I’m looking forward to the exercises we’ll be doing involving the service cycle. I would like to learn more about when service design has gone wrong and when it’s ruined companies and when it’s been done well to help companies grow in a way that helps people.

October 9, 2017: Molly’s Service Design Intro

What is a service? ex: Airbnb, Chipotle, Hair Salons, etc.

What is service design? Operation with frontstage and backstage employees that provides value and an outcome. Doesn’t produce a physical product. There are many touchpoints involved.

  • Hair salon: calling, making an appointment online, etc.
  • “Service has no or little intrinsic value until the moment of its use or consumption.” Doesn’t get stored in a warehouse until its needed.
  • Moving between different scales — “zooming in and zooming out”
  • Services are human-centered and stakeholder-centered
  • Who and what exactly is involved in these interactions?

“When you have 2 coffee shops right next to each other, selling the exact same coffee at the exact same price, service design is what makes you walk in to the one and not the other, come back often and tell you friends about it.” 31 Volts

What do service designers do? Not just the experience. It’s also grounded in the materials that make up a service, including posters, buildings, machines, and interfaces.” We understand gets exchanged and how. What people are trying to accomplish. What are the goals and motivations?

It’s looking at different business models. How do these stakeholders define value? Is it money here?

Service Design is performed by: designers, product managers, UX researchers, business analysts, data scientists

October 11, 2017: Thinking of Possible Interventions

After Molly’s class on Service Design thinking, our group came up with some possible interventions that the city could implement as a first step towards getting better access to clean air. Shown below are three of the interventions we created.

We chose to focus on two interventions in particular: Steps for Rewards and an Air Quality Monitor.

Steps for Rewards gives points to people who choose to walk or bike to work. People can exchange the points for discounts at local eateries in their area.

The Air Quality Monitor is a device installed in the home that can track which pollutants are in the air. The monitor sends daily reports to homeowners to let them know about the quality of air in their homes.

October 14, 2017: Social Innovation/Entrepreneurship

I was particularly interested in this reading cause I’ve been trying to learn more about social innovation. I was intrigued by this part of the reading:

“The social entrepreneurs we work with often have extremely limited resources in very challenging environments. One might argue that they don’t have the luxury to spend on design…”

I wonder how people have been working to tackle that issue. Design resources, materials and education should be more accessible to those who need it and can’t necessarily afford it.

“I believe design is critical for effective innovation but it’s important to define ‘innovation’ because I so often see it misused.”

This quote if my favorite:

“The most important element is not losing sight of the true intent—the ‘Why?’…The Why? rallies people around your audience—which you must know really well. Knowing them is very different than asking them what they like or want; it’s anticipating what they need.”

I agree with the interviewer that there aren’t enough design leaders at corporations around the world. I hope that in the rest of the semester and in Service Design/Social Innovation next semester, we learn more about how to communicate business values in more effective ways.

October 15, 2017: Service Blueprints + Interventions

We split into two teams for this assignment so I worked with Albert and Jeong Min to create a service out of one of our interventions. We first evaluated the different ideas our group members came up with and talked through how it potentially could be a service. Would it be an effective one? Who are all the stakeholders involved? How does this add value to the community and most importantly, how does this tie into our topic of air quality?

Defining Values and Stakeholders

We decided to further investigate the Air Quality Monitor idea. Together, we defined the value that this monitor would bring to an individual. We then discussed how the greater community would benefit from such a service. Next, we thought of the stakeholders involved.

Defining the value + stakeholders of the service.

Creating a Service Blueprint

Finally, we came up with a service blueprint (shown below) defining the front-end and back-end interactions from production to onboarding and actual usage of the service.

October 16, 2017: Social Innovation Lecture

Today we got to hear how the non-profit organization, Future Fish, has been tackling the problem of overfishing with transition design approaches.

There are a couple of big issues they’re trying to tackle:

  • The by-catch that stems from fishing creates an incredible amount of waste which damages the ecosystem on multiple levels.
  • There’s a problem of fraud in the industry. Restaurants are misleading customers by labeling fish on the menu wrongly. Restaurant owners aren’t the one to blame here. There’s not much data collection going on throughout the supply chain. Fishers aren’t documenting what they’re catching, where and how, etc. Barely any information gets collected.
  • Lastly, only 10–12% of the fisheries are certified for using sustainable practices. It’s really time consuming and expensive to gather the baseline data from the fishers.
Notes from the lecture on Future of Fish

We came up with a long list of possible interventions after hearing the problems that fishers encounter on a daily basis. We put the ideas down on Post-it notes and then discussed where’d they go on the 2x2 diagram. Which ideas are high impact and highly complex to pull of? Which ones are low impact and not very compact? We categorized the ideas into different sections: Low Hanging Fruit, Transition Design, Deep Customized Changes and Simple Wins.

Different ideas our group came up with mapped out on the two axis of high/low complexity and impact.

We voted on ideas that we want to dig deeper into. We chose to focus on two:

  • Creating new technology that doesn’t have to scrape up the ocean floor and get a bunch of unwanted fish
  • Create a technical database that collects info about the fish to share with stakeholders throughout the supply chain from processors to restaurants

October 18, 2017: Social Innovation Lecture Pt. 2

When I went to lunch with Terry yesterday, she gave us some insight on how to best utilize the 2x2 framework. I think for our team, we sorted so many of the ideas into the top right corner, thinking that those ideas are probably the transition design ideas. In reality, we probably should have focused on the 3 other quadrants first before tackling the transition design quadrant — asking ourselves, of the ideas in these three areas, how would they combine to be one larger, systems-level transition design idea? The ideas in the transition design quadrant are most likely going to be the sum of a bunch of nested ideas.

October 22, 2017: Interesting Online Readings

I’ve been doing a ton of outside readings in my own free time. Here are some of the ones I’ve read in the past week:

This Fast Co. Design article talks about a student’s idea to package different household supplies as solids. This would help save a ton of plastic in the manufacturing process. Imagine buying solid tablets of shampoo.

China just announced that it’s planning on stopping the production of 150 coal-fired power plants that were set to be completed in the next decade. This is a big deal for a country like China which hasn’t always had the best green practices. Hopefully other countries will follow in their actions.

This article highlights how the current administration is trying to repeal a bunch of the emission rules that Obama’s presidency had set in place. It’s really frustrating to see that the current administration doesn’t take climate change concerns seriously.

This is where the idea for the air quality monitor came from. The monitor was actually created by a CMU lab! I think they could improve their interface but the idea is really solid and could really change how we think about pollution.

The article below came out this week about an 11-year-old girl who came up with a lead-detecting device that I believe is now the fastest one in the world! She became passionate about this issue after experiencing the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Social Innovation Idea:

  • If retail stores want to keep their lights on all night for safety reasons, they should rely on using solar energy. Better security measures should also be developed so that crimes and intruders can be detected without needing to have 40 light bulbs on in one store.

Service Design Idea:

  • For people who don’t want to purchase, maintain and install their own solar panels, they can pay a monthly fee to take part of the neighborhood or city’s solar panel energy grid. Colorado has started to implement this idea. Their program, GRID Alternatives, helps low income residents with solar energy.
  • “Rooftop solar is the most common way for individuals and families to go solar today, but over three-quarters of the country isn’t able to participate in rooftop solar because they rent their home, don’t have a solar-appropriate roof (shaded by a tree for example), or just can’t install rooftop solar for any reason. Community solar is a way for anyone to go solar. Participants get the financial savings and clean energy from the sun as if the solar system was on their roof, but their solar panels are located offsite in a larger, shared community solar array in an area that’s ideally suited for solar energy generation.” — GRID Alternatives
“GRID, in partnership with cooperative, municipal and investor-owned utilities, is developing the first community solar arrays in the country that exclusively benefit underserved communities, as well as collaborating with for-profit community solar developers to help ensure that the energy generated by their community solar systems are accessible to all.”

Although this idea directly combats energy issues, it also helps to preserve air quality. By adopting this concept, we’d be using cleaner energy in our homes and neighborhoods.

October 24, 2017: Collaborating on Intervention Ideas

I had some great conversations with Adella Guo and Steven Ji on how some of our intervention ideas relate to each other. Adella reached out to me to find out how urban planning relates to both housing and air quality. I shared an article (posted above) with her that explains why city planners should be involved in discussions around air pollution and air quality.

I found out recently about Uber Movement, a new product that the company is launching to provide publicly accessible transportation data. This move will help city planners better understand where people around going around town and at what times in the day.

How does sharing this data help cities in being sustainable?
“Uber Movement provides anonymized data from over two billion trips to help urban planning around the world. Discover patterns and analyze the impact of events, rush hours, and road closures in cities worldwide.”

What’s Uber’s motivation for sharing all this data?

Over the past six and a half years, we’ve learned a lot about the future of urban mobility and what it means for cities and the people who live in them. We’ve gotten consistent feedback from cities we partner with that access to our aggregated data will inform decisions about how to adapt existing infrastructure and invest in future solutions to make our cities more efficient. We hope Uber Movement can play a role in helping cities grow in a way that works for everyone.
Quotes from partners that find the data to be immensely helpful in understanding how people move through the city.

Educating people about the toxins in their drinking water:

When I talked with Steven, we discussed how technology could play a role in educating people about the water that they’re drinking from public faucets and fountains. It would be interesting if a water bottle could filter out the pollution particles and then inform the person about what was coming from the tap or fountain. That information could then be shared to some wider network where the data can be accessed publicly.

To help prevent disease or the spread of illness further, it would be great if people could learn more about the water coming from the fountain or tap before they choose to put it in their water bottle. We thought of a scenario where your phone would inform you about the quality of water at a fountain nearby. You could see how the water quality differs from one fountain to the next on campus. Using your mobile device, you can get information on when the water was last inspected, what toxins or pollutants were detected recently, etc. All of that information could be really useful to multiple stakeholders.

Students would be better informed about the water that they’re taking in. The school administration would be able to better monitor and improve the water quality. City officials and researchers might be more involved in conversations since they feel more informed about the situation overall.

I’m excited to see how tomorrow’s Studio class goes. I wish that reaching out to advisors on-campus was a requirement for this project. I think it should be an assignment for us to do rather than an option. I want to dig more into the research side of things. I really want to speak to people, not design off of my own assumptions, get outside of the studio and get our ideas tested so we can better refine them.

“But sharing platforms like Uber, Airbnb, and Craigslist can help cities cut their carbon emissions, potentially becoming an important weapon in the fight against climate change, a new study suggests. The authors argue that sharing transport, housing, air conditioning, and even internet connections can mitigate the shift to smaller homes.
In effect, the sharing economy–broadly defined–can make up for the shift to smaller households. “If cities can provide the social and technological infrastructure that facilitate [sharing], then it is possible that dense cities can help people leverage the benefits of sharing in the 21st century in much the same way that large households have done so in the past,” the paper, published in Ecological Economics, says.”
But cities can do more to encourage sharing, from approving new development that lets people live and work in closer proximity (minimizing transport needs) to making ride-hailing cheaper and more convenient. Other policy options include closing the digital divide between rich and poor, incentivizing people to rent out their homes when they go away, carpooling, and even building more parks, which reduce the need for personal, rather than shared, space.

October 25, 2017: Pivoting to Food Sharing

At the start of class today, we got time to chat with classmates to see where their minds were on what projects they wanted to do moving forward. At first, I wanted to find other students to work on the idea of building a community solar energy grid in Pittsburgh, but after talking to Ty, I became interested in collaborating on their project that tackles food insecurity, food education and meal sharing. His interest stems from his research on social housing issues.

I spent last year studying food accessibility for my UCRE project. My team did a lot of interviews with stakeholders in the area who visit food banks, pantries and kitchens on a regular basis. Jitae has an interest in food accessibility cause he wants to raise awareness about local food sourcing, meal preparation, etc. Popo is interested in this topic because of his research done on transportation.

Project Criteria & Foundation

Identify the problems that lead us to focus on this intervention:

  • Lack of ways to share information about food: We know that there’s people at food banks who like to cook and know how to prepare different kinds of meals but there’s not many ways for them to share recipes and knowledge about food.
  • Not many effective solutions: There are a lot of band-aid solutions to tackling food accessibility. There hasn’t been a truly groundbreaking solution that helps people who are in food deserts. At what point do these solutions fail? What are the hurdles they face in helping residents who lack access to fresh produce?
  • Lack of steady income and jobs: Low-income residents who are in food deserts don’t have steady income a lot of the times. They have trouble finding jobs that work around their schedule and needs.
  • Lack of access and money for transportation: There are many residents in food deserts who need fresh produce but can’t afford or get access to transportation. Currently, there are groups that help deliver meals from food banks and kitchens to those who can’t get around. People commute very far distances just to get a meal.
  • Food waste is a massive problem: Food waste is a huge problem that we’re facing on a global scale. We hope that our intervention helps to mitigate this wicked problem in some way.
  • Housing costs are so expensive: Low-income residents have to save up money to maintain their rent and utility fees. As a result, they can’t afford to buy healthy, fresh produce as often. If they apply to the Affordable Housing Agreement, they often times have to move across the county which causes them to lose their network of familiar friends, businesses, resources etc. This would require them to figure out new commuting plans and places to get food.

Here are some notes from our discussion. Statements with an asterisk are ones that we want to get more information on:

  • Currently, low-income people have trouble accessing food in their area. So much of Pittsburgh is made up of food deserts. Low-income residents have trouble getting to the food banks and kitchens because transportation is expensive and not that accessible in all parts of the city.
  • Fast food is readily available and cheaper to purchase. It’s quick and easy to get. Therefore, many people reach for it. Low-income residents often don’t have the right tools or resources to prepare meals.*
  • We want to do more research into Meals on Wheels and how it’s impacted the community. How is it effective and how is it not? How is it funded?
  • In past interviews with people at food banks, I found that many of them actually had past experiences working as cooks. Many of them also just love food or cooking in general.
  • Cooking is very much a social activity. Sharing food isn’t a new concept.
  • We hope that our intervention would tackle both transportation and air quality in different ways. We want to wean people off of depending on food banks and public transportation. By partnering with organizations like Meals on Wheels or 412 Rescue, we’d be reducing the amount of vehicles being used to deliver food resources.

Research Questions:

These are a list of questions we hope to get answered in the coming weeks. This also answers the kind of impact we hope to have on the community.

  • How could low income residents make money selling home-cooked meals in their community at a cheap price?
  • How can people find cheap meals in their neighborhood that’s nutritious?
  • How do we create better channels or methods for them to share knowledge about food preparation and healthy eating?
  • How do we get low-income residents to try new produce at food banks?
  • How do we build upon existing infrastructures and resources to alleviate the issues that low-income residents face being in food deserts?
  • How do we better distribute tools, resources and education around healthy eating habits?

Perceived stumbling blocks:

  • How will we get around food and health regulations?
  • What’s the social network like offline/online for residents in food deserts?
  • How do we spread awareness and access to cooking tools and resources?
  • How do we combat issues of transportation in getting resources and delivering home-cooked meals?

What’s the design opportunity we want to achieve?

  • We want to change people’s habits around cooking and sharing food. We hope to create better channels of communication between people living in food deserts so that they can share recipes, meals, resources, and more.
  • We hope that people find better ways to educate themselves and each other about the food that they’re consuming.
  • We want to create economic opportunities for people in the community to share affordable, home-cooked meals. This idea is scalable to different communities. It works not only within food deserts but also on college campuses, in cities across the nation and worldwide.

Studio: Moving Forward

We need to consider the tensions that we’ll be facing in our project moving forward. There will be times where things feel familiar and times when things feel very uncertain. There will be a push and pull between humility and a level of expertise.

Things to consider:

  • As a larger team, we need o pull our weight on the project.
  • What do you want to get out of this project personally?
  • What do we want our final deliverables to be?

October 29, 2017: Food Sharing Research

Program that donates bakery items from Starbucks to the East End Ministry Co-op

Over the weekend, I was walking through Shadyside at night and spotted this truck parked outside on the street. I approached the driver to learn about the program. Starbucks has agreed to donate any uneaten bakery items from their stores to the East End Ministry Food Co-op. The driver goes around to all of the participating Starbucks locations in Pittsburgh at night to pick-up the pre-packaged bags of food. He’ll write down the amount of items he got in pounds and the temperature that they were stored at during the time of pick-up on a spreadsheet. It’s critical that the items are stored at 38F degrees. They should not be stored at any temperature higher or lower. Once all of this information is gotten, he checks in that he’s gone to the store on an app. The truck is built so that it’s constantly keeping the temperature at 38F degrees. The food all gets dropped off by the end of the night so that volunteers can package the items to be served to those in need in the afternoon. Some items are served along with lunch while other items are given out at the food pantry.

November 1, 2017: Narrowing the Scope

Originally, our idea focused on getting low income residents to buy and sell home-cooked meals:

“We hope to provide low income residents with better access to unused food, tools and spaces leveraging the existing social community, infrastructure and communication channels found in food banks and kitchens. We’d want to find out if people would want such a way to share resources related to food. If successful, we’d want to scale this idea to sharing resources from bikes to ladders, etc. Our long term goal would be that we eventually create a network for people to provide and purchase affordable home-cooked meals in their local community.”

After some consideration, we chose to focus specifically on helping people get access to the ingredients and food items that they need.

Here are some of the How Might We statements that we drafted:

  • How might we help low income residents supply each other with unused resources (produce, cooking tools) in their local network?
  • How might we help low income residents exchange unused produce with other people in their network?
  • How might we create a way for low income residents to gain access to the produce they need outside of the food bank?
  • How might we build a system that allows low income residents to get the produce they need when they need it?

We landed on this as a our (for now) guiding statement:

  • How might the introduction of a barter system between residents in food deserts shape the way that they rely on food banks for produce?

What would we plan on investigating?

We would want to investigate if community members would want something like this. If they do, how would they want to communicate with each other? Would it be best if this worked online or offline? How would we get other stakeholders involved? We want to first focus specifically on getting people the produce they need. If successful, we would expand the idea to help people share and exchange tools such as electronic devices and hardware. From there, people might even be willing to share spaces together like kitchens and living rooms.

Describe how the work done earlier in the term has helped you identify the defined investigation as a worthy design opportunity.

Food: Identified social and environmental issues surrounding food waste when mapping a wicked problem. While researching existing interventions for the DSI matrix, I identified nonprofits operating in Pittsburgh that focused on reducing food waste. I created a max-neef diagram on 412 Food Rescue, a Pittsburgh based nonprofit focused on rescuing leftover food, laying down which needs the org was currently satisfying. While Unfolding a Vision: Three Horizons I was particularly intrigued by 412 Food Rescue’s immediate impact and suggested a crowdsourced autonomous food rescue as an intervention for possible food interventions in the relatively near future.

Transportation: Some of the solutions that we have proposed could definitely be implemented to help us and be used as inspiration for our cause. A significant amount of air pollution is contributed by private road going vehicles. By having a centralized shuttle service to distribute resources we can reduce the number of private vehicles that would have been used in order to solve this problem.

Previous solutions we can take inspiration from:

  • Fuel-Vehicle Restrictions: Legislation that passes to limit the amount of fuel-running vehicles on the road, for example, no driving on a certain day of the week. Considerations are made for those in an economic situation dependent of this transport.
  • Shared Community Vehicles: A new service that provides a set amount of autonomous vehicles for every community that service members as they require transportation. When the vehicles are in low demand, like at night, they support lower income areas with transportation.
  • Community Center Kit: A group of social innovations that bring a kit to communities to stimulate conversation around forming community centers, particularly where the shared vehicle hubs are, that will encourage participation, shared-services, and affection towards diverse/new community members.

Apparently in Finland, the amount of pollution from food waste that is generated annually is the same amount that gets produced from 100,000 cars on the road. We tend to focus so much on how cars and transportation impact air pollution but I think it’s important to look outside of that area and notice how systems like food affect air quality.

During our Three Horizons activity, we also identified that individualism is an issue tied to air pollution. This ties into what I explained earlier about over consumption and use of goods. Ideally, we would want people to move away from feeling the need to have their own things like their own cars for example. We would want people to support the use of shared community vehicles.

We believe that the sharing of resources, from food to living spaces, will reduce the amount of resources used and wasted which will in turn help reduce pollution.

Our team wrote a story to showcase how our intervention would work in the community and how it would bring value to people. After defining the narrative, we figured out what parts of the story could potentially become artifacts.

Michael visits the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry on a monthly basis. It’s January in Pittsburgh, and there’s lots of sleet and ice on the ground. His back pain has gotten worse over the past month from stocking books on shelves during his volunteer shifts at the library. The cold weather doesn’t help either. He’s at home after sending his three children to school, and needs to plan meals for the week. He has to pick up ingredients for the full week when he’s at the food pantry.

To get to the bus stop, he has to walk about 15 minutes from his apartment. Once he gets on the bus, he waits patiently for 40 minutes until he arrives at the food pantry. Each direction costs him $2.75.

At the food pantry, he first goes to the attendant’s desk to check in. They check that he is in the system and hands him a number. He is invited to sit down in the waiting room until his number is called. He converses with other people in the waiting room, chatting about the recent Steelers’ loss. Fifteen minutes pass before his number is called. He strolls his cart around the pantry scanning the shelves in the room, looking for the same items he always gets. He has been coming here for a year and a half now. He knows exactly what items he wants to grab. It feels routine to him. Canned tuna, baked beans, peanut butter, canned pineapple, granola bars, dried fruit, chicken noodle soup, cereal…

Before he leaves, he looks over the items. He checks to make sure that he got what he needed to make dinner for himself and his children. He picked up some dried apple slices this time just for Ashley — it’s her favorite.

(A couple days pass…)

It’s 11:30 am and Michael just finished his morning shift, volunteering at the community public library. On his commute back home on the bus, he thinks about what he wants to cook for lunch and dinner that night. As a single parent, he is responsible for planning and preparing all the meals to feed himself and his three young kids. Each Monday, he plans out what he’ll cook for the family dinners. He checks his watch and makes note of the fact that Johnny, Ashley and Sarah will be dropped off at home by the school bus in just four hours. He looks to see what is in his fridge.

Michael decides that he’ll bake a Shepherd’s Pie, something warm to eat in this freezing weather. Michael pulls out some frozen ground beef and vegetables that he got from the grocery store last week. He realizes all of a sudden that he’s missing potatoes — the key ingredient! He curses under his breath. He regrets not picking up potatoes last week at the food pantry. He won’t be able to get any until the end of the month and at that point, the potatoes will probably be gone. Usually the only food that’s left at that point is bread, chicken stock and some leftover canned goods. The pantries generally restock their inventory at the start of the month. Also living in a food desert, there are no grocery stores within walking distances.

To see how the story ends, continue reading here.

Post-activity: Finding opportunities for design in the scenario

We each left comments where we felt like there were questions that needed to be addressed. We were mostly trying to identify which areas of the write-up might lead to a potential design deliverable. We started to build up a list of stumbling blocks and research questions.

November 5, 2017: Drafting Intervention Ideas

As a group, we came together to come up with the deliverables we want to make in this second portion of the semester. These are the two ideas I want to further explore:

Idea: Create a way for people to indicate what food items they need and what they can give up in exchange at the food bank.

Hypothesis: My hypothesis is that people sometimes take food items that they don’t actually need or end up eating. Instead of this going to waste, they can bring the items back and find someone else to give it to who actually needs or wants it.

Deliverable: Place a Giving Wall in food banks where people can drop off items that they no longer want or need. Maybe they bring the items they no longer want when they check in at the food bank.

Action items: 1. Create a digital mockup of what the Giving Wall would look like inside a food bank. 2. Get a real shelf and place food items in it to show how it would work.

Idea: Local stations could be set up in neighborhoods so that people can get the ingredients they need without having to take any kind of public transportation.

Hypothesis: Currently, residents have to commute long distances to get produce from food banks. It’s expensive to ride the bus and for many people with health problems, it’s not safe to be spending so much time outdoors. Many people already get food delivered to them from food banks because they face health risks and are not as mobile (mostly the older population).

Deliverable: Create mini pantries in food insecure neighborhoods to get people the produce that they need at irregular times. The mini pantries can also function as a community gathering space where friends can share meals, enjoy some television, etc. Volunteers would help drop off food, maintain the space and get hours for being on the job. In winter, this might be especially beneficial for people because they would not have to travel in the cold. This would save them time and money by not having to ride the bus to get to the food bank.

Action item: Creating a digital mockup of what this mini pantry environment would look like. Creating mockups for how people would request the food items that they want (ex: either a website, mobile app, text message system).

November 6, 2017: Defining the Project (continued)

I found two articles this morning that were of interest to our group. The first one is about how the NYC Department of Sanitation is giving microgrants to small businesses that are planning on fighting food waste in the city.

The second article is about how mobile markets are bringing affordable, fresh produce to food insecure neighborhoods.

Before the mobile market started rolling through her neighborhood in April, Sika says that she bought fresh produce maybe every other week because “it’s pricey and not as convenient.” Now she includes fresh vegetables weekly in her family’s meals. Providing more fresh produce to urban neighborhoods where grocery stores can be few and far between has long been a focus for those working to balance food offerings among fast food restaurants and corner convenience stores. The proliferation of farmers’ markets has helped, with more than 8,000 operating nationwide in the United States. But farmers’ markets tend to be located in wealthy neighborhoods and are often out of reach, both physically and economically, for many low-income residents.
A growing number of cities in the US, however, have been trying another tack: food trucks that bring fruits and vegetables directly to low-income communities and that double residents’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars. “[I]f someone wants to go the grocery store, they have to change two different buses, go to the grocery store, get back on the buses with all of their groceries to a bus stop then walk home,” says Hannah Heacox, who has been driving a fresh food truck in Spartanburg, S.C., since July. Her truck is sponsored by Hub City Farmers’ Market, an organization working to increase access to local food. “I’m taking the mobile market to places where it would be very hard otherwise for people to get the food that they need.”
“[O]ne of the biggest public health problems facing the nation with hunger and food and security is that a lot of people’s SNAP benefit ran out at their first grocery run on the 3rd or the 5th of the month,” says Dr. Nunn. “If you are a SNAP recipient, your $1 is worth $2 at [Food on the Move].”

What do you hope to learn through this study?

For the Giving Wall idea:

  • How is food waste produced within the system of food banks and food kitchens? How and why is food wasted? What measures have been put in place to try and prevent this?
  • How do we design for an audience that we don’t really relate to?
  • What would be the best way for people to exchange the items that they don’t need or want?
  • Does it make sense for a Giving Wall to exist in a food bank? How would people respond to it?
  • How do we incentivize people to share ingredients and produce?

For the idea on building mini pantries:

  • I’m interested in finding out what it would take for food banks and organizations to set up mini pantries in different food insecure neighborhoods.
  • What sort of legislation would need to pass in order for this to happen?
  • What stakeholders would need to get involved?
  • What opportunities are there to present this idea to stakeholders?
  • Why doesn’t something like this already exist?

What do you perceive as stumbling blocks?

  • How would we convince stakeholders that this is useful and that it should be implemented in food banks?
  • How would people find out about this giving and exchange system?
  • What is the incentive for people to participate in this program?
  • People may give but they might not get the items they want. People would be less motivated to contribute if they have a bad first experience.
  • I worry that the incentive to donate and exchange items will be small since it might not be of a priority to people. They can only access the Giving Wall at the food bank itself. How do we create a system that isn’t tied to a physical location like a food bank or kitchen?
  • How much money would it cost to maintain the space? Who would provide funding for this?
  • How do we get stakeholders to approve this? Would it be a lengthy process? Would it cost a lot to do?
  • How do we get food banks to agree to implement local food banks?

November 8, 2017: Researching Mobile Food Pantries

For my class deliverable today, I spent time researching the current state of mobile markets and food pantries. I researched how they operate, where they operate and how they are making an impact on people living in food insecure areas. I’m surprised that there are so many active mobile markets currently. I didn’t think there were as many because I thought that it would be a costly operation to maintain.

Changing to focus on mobile pantries

Now, I realize that my idea of building local mini pantries in neighborhoods might not make the most sense. People would still have to travel to these smaller pantries even if they are closer and in their local neighborhood. It would be a difficult task to maintain all of these spaces. Who would pay for them? Who would cover the cost of utilities? Are we taking away business opportunities by building a small pantry? Food bank organizers already have so many responsibilities. Having these micro pantries might be a burden to them. I think it might make more sense to focus on improving the existing mobile food bank system. How can we help these mobile trucks reach a wider audience? In my research, I found that a lot of these organizations post a calendar or schedule on their website. How are people currently keeping track of this schedule?

Notifying people about mobile pantry schedules

Maybe it would help if people could get real-time text message updates on when the mobile pantry will be in their area. Getting text messages could be really helpful so that they don’t have to access a website every time. What if they want to keep track of multiple mobile pantries?

Examples of the calendars/schedules I found on these different mobile pantry websites. Most of them are not interactive and don’t allow you to connect to other calendar services. They’re mostly text based. How do we centralize all of this information?

November 12, 2017: Phone Booth Installation

What do you plan to investigate?

How can a design intervention, structured as an interactive phone booth installation (form), aid our understanding of (1) the hardships that low-income residents face in accessing local transportation and fresh produce and (2) provide insight into how this information should be utilized to help the public and local government make better informed decisions.

Why do this?

By documenting the issues that low-income residents face in their ability to access local transportation and fresh produce and gauging the public’s interest in, and understanding of, the data we provide, we believe we will be in a good position to propose subsequent design interventions that help local city government officials make better urban planning decisions that impact the livelihoods of food insecure residents.

We imagine future interventions to explore (1) the challenges that low income residents face in purchasing groceries, getting produce delivered, and growing fresh produce, and (2) the roles that these understandings would have in conceiving sustainable solutions to reduce the need for band-aid solutions, such as food banks and soup kitchens. As a result, we believe that a series of interventions would have the potential to eliminate unsustainable food safety nets and eradicate the existence of food deserts.

Will this be a service design or social innovation project?

We plan to investigate this through a social innovation lens. Our idea is not a service or business. We are creating a platform for low income residents to voice their opinions about the state of transportation and access to fresh produce to city government officials. Through the sharing and exchange of these stories, we hope to see a mindset and behavior change in how we approach solutions to food insecurity. Our project will drive conversations at multiple levels of the system, engaging stakeholders from college students to government officials and urban planners.

What do you hope to learn through the study?

We hope to learn how city officials and Pittsburgh residents (1) understand the hardships that low-income residents face on a daily basis in their ability to access transportation and fresh produce and (2) respond to our prototype aimed at helping them make more informed legislative decisions based on the stories provided.

What do you plan to make?

Our intervention will engage city officials and Pittsburgh residents (either CMU faculty/students or food bank organizers as a starting point) in two activities. The first activity will ask participants to decide on the addition and removal of grocery stores and bus routes in Pittsburgh neighborhoods (budget, income/poverty level, current bus routes, current grocery stores).

We want to learn more about their priorities in this decision making process. Afterwards, we would play them some of the soundbytes left by residents living in food deserts. We would ask them to reconsider the decisions they made in the first activity to understand how hearing the stories changed their way of thinking.

What will be some stumbling blocks?

  • It may be challenging to go out and interview food bank operators and obtain soundbytes from local residents.
  • It may be difficult to get accurate research results given that most community members aren’t in the position to make decisions about food deserts or city planning.
  • It may be difficult to get honest responses from participants as they may tell us what they think we want to hear.
  • It may be challenging to replicate realistic decision making scenarios.
  • It may be challenging to earn the trust of low income residents to share their concerns.
  • We do not know how the local community would receive our ideas.
  • It may be hard to remove our own biases from interpreting and communicating the concerns of low income residents.

How will we address these given our resources?

We plan to reach out to food bank organizers early in our process. We will try to interview students or faculty members who are familiar with issues concerning food deserts and food insecurity. We will clearly communicate the intentions of our research project to the people we encounter. We will make multiple iterations of the scenario and test them thoroughly before running the actual study with participants. We will take into account that some of the gathered research from the local residents will be inaccurate as they are not experts in urban planning, and will not use it completely to design our proposed solution.

Notes on Policy Making & Evidence/Anecdotes

In discussing the role of evidence in policy making, Musicant clarified that she did not speak from her own perspective as a health expert, but from the point of view of an elected official dealing with a myriad of issues. In terms of obesity prevention, if a proposed strategy dovetails with a policy maker’s other objectives and personal opinions about healthy behaviors, his or her interest in taking action increases. If the strategy is singularly about improving health, evidence must be paired with community advocacy before a policy maker takes action. If little or no evidence for the effectiveness of a proposed policy exists, a local pilot or demonstration can help.

In discussing the role of evidence in decision making, Musicant said she was revisiting the topic of her master’s thesis on health care cost containment. In that research, she found no relationship between what policy makers said they needed in terms of evidence to make a decision and how they actually made their decisions. She said her experience tells her this occurs because the evidence is not available in a meaningful way when policy makers need it. Instead, they are influenced by the opinions of trusted advisors, constituents’ advocacy for the change, the strength of opponents’ arguments and their clout, and the decision maker’s own personal and family experience with the issue. Evidence is used most often as a justification after a decision has been made, rather than as the reason for the decision.

“Food and exercise are so personalizable. Everybody has their own anecdote that they carry around with them constantly. That is the most powerful information for most decision makers.”

— Gretchen Musicant

When they do seek evidence for health-related policy changes, policy makers need it to be localized to track the changes; timely; capable of being broken down in meaningful ways, such as by age or race; affordable; and reliable. Also helpful are anecdotal evidence, data on the magnitude of the problem, information showing how to balance civil liberties with health, and parallels with other successful public health efforts to change behaviors.

Much remains to be discovered about the most effective ways to enact obesity-related policies. It is necessary to build evidence based on community wisdom and to promote health-enhancing behaviors, in some cases helping groups rediscover their own traditional, more healthful ways. Health impact assessments, which have been used in Europe and Canada, may be effective in bringing new perspectives into planning and engaging the public. The government has many tools available. The question remains how best to use them to optimize health.

Tejada suggested finding ways to encourage citizen participation by asking the mayor and other elected representatives what the jurisdiction is doing to combat obesity and having information to give them. Coalitions raise the visibility of an issue, such as through a forum where people can discuss the issue and not just reinvent the wheel. Drummond agreed that community consensus is important. He also suggested following the “path of least resistance,” which he defined as agencies, such as parks and recreation or health, that would be most receptive to obesity prevention efforts.

Each location has unique characteristics that must be understood before programs or policies are developed.

Each community has its own health-related concerns, eating preferences, and activity patterns, as well as socioeconomic conditions, opportunities, and constraints created by the built and natural environments. Presenters explained how they have drawn on different data sets, inventoried existing programs, and talked with experts and community members to further their understanding of the local obesity problem, its causes, and potential solutions. In some cases, they noted that they would have benefited from more localized data than are currently available.

The way the evidence is presented is critical. Policy makers are barraged with information. The organizations represented on the panel continually seek the most effective ways to build on the evidence to draw the attention of policy makers, the media, other opinion leaders, and the public. These methods include mapping and other visuals, easy-to-grasp metrics, brief summaries of relevant research, and personal stories and testimonials.

Often, evidence is presented to justify a decision based on a particular issue. It is helpful to policy makers if the context for local government, cost, and feasibility are all addressed when a policy decision is being advocated.

November 17, 2017: Finding Short-term Interventions

We met as a team to discuss how we should move forward in the project. We wanted to come up with some sort of short-term intervention that we could gather data for and pitch to policymakers. We brainstormed ideas based on a story we had read online related to our research topic:

In this food insecure neighborhood, there were a ton of people waiting to get off the vendor permit waitlist. These vendors were looking to sell items like hot dogs and pretzels. A community coalition went out to survey individuals to ask them what sort of foods they would buy from a vendor.

If they sold fruits and vegetables, would they buy them? From their research, they gathered that many residents would in fact buy fresh fruit and produce from the vendors. It would improve the neighborhood’s access to fresh foods on a regular basis. The community coalition took all this information to show to policymakers. The policymakers proposed this idea to the people on the waitlist. If they agreed to sell fruits and vegetables, then they would be taken off of the waitlist immediately. The people agreed, happy to hear that they would have many customers lined up already. Over a thousand people were taken off of the waitlist and given a permit to sell foods and produce.

November 19, 2017: Groceries in Corner Stores


“In food deserts, convenience stores are often the only nearby places to buy food. Instead of using resources to build new supermarkets in low — income communities, determined groups can work with already established corner stores to include healthier food options. This transformation can actively promote food justice by replacing excessive tobacco, alcohol, and junk food intake with healthy food consumption in the community. Results from studies examining corner store healthy food initiatives have found that stocking and promoting healthier food items have increased sales of these items and therefore increased healthy food consumption.”

In looking at a bunch of corner store exteriors, we noticed that a lot of these shops advertise unhealthy things (Ex: Coca-cola, beer, cigarettes, soda and candy). What if we used the outside space to promote healthier items that are sold in the store? What would change if the advertisements focused on fruits and vegetables: “We carry apples, oranges, bananas!”

It would also be interesting to explore how we can use the window space to collect responses from people on how they’d feel if this corner store carried fresh produce.

We could place posters on the windows with different questions and have Sharpies/markers attached to the board. People can leave their responses while they’re waiting or chatting outside. We hope that this would involve more people in the conversation and data collection. Also, if a lot of people respond to the questions, the storeowner can see the demand to sell fruits and vegetables on their own.

Project Wrap-up & Final Reflections

The entries below summarize what went on in the last few weeks of this studio class. We continued with our idea to focus on placing interventions in corner stores to gather data on the food related needs of Pittsburgh residents.

Pre-Thanksgiving: Facing Roadblocks

We left the Studio project on a rough note prior to leaving for Thanksgiving break. As a team, we felt discouraged about the ideas we had come up with after getting useful feedback from the professors. We had met during the weekend to plan out the interventions that we wanted to create. We made sure we had solid reasonings for going after each idea. We spoke with the Crime team that day to ask them what they were doing for their project. We liked that they had actually visited the diner they were planning on putting the interventions in to fully understand the space they were using. They told us that originally they had come up with the idea to create placemats that would initiate conversation around crime in the community (I think). When they finally visited the site, they realized that the diner did not make use of placemats. They were able to change their idea quickly after seeking out other areas of the environment they could utilize.

We were inspired by their thought process and figured it’d be useful for us to go out and visit some corner stores in Pittsburgh to better understand how we should place the interventions around the environment as well. Excited about the new direction we were heading in, we came into Studio that week ready to investigate some corner stores we had done research about online. When we presented our ideas to Stuart at the start of class, he was hesitant to let us go out and do our research. He was concerned about the research and interview methods we were trying to use. The questions we were planning on asking storeowners did not seem to be fully thought out. The way we had phrased the interview questions did not seem to be effective in his opinion.

So instead of leaving the classroom, we worked with the professors to refine our overall project idea. They helped us find clarity in understanding how to move forward given the current state we were in. Initially, our plan was to come up with interventions we could place inside corner stores to gather data about the storeowner and visitors. We were interested in knowing how often they could get fresh produce on a regular basis: What were the worst parts of their commute? What were some of their obstacles in getting fresh produce? Would they want to see fresh produce sold in the store? Would the owner be willing to help out with such an initiative and try to get fruits and vegetables in their store? What is currently preventing them from selling such items?

We would synthesize the data and see if a consensus was reached on the topic of offering produce in corner stores. If our results were significant, we would show them off to policymakers and to any relevant stakeholders. Overall, the project plan was received pretty negatively. Our team felt really crushed by the critique that we got that day. We were at a real loss for what to do and felt like we were running out of time. It seemed like we had high-level issues that we needed to sort out with our plan. Our team morale was extremely low that day. Some teammates felt that the roadblock we were facing was a result of not everyone in the group contributing their fair share of work. At this point in the semester, it was becoming more and more clear who cared about the success and outcome of our group project and who didn’t. I was disappointed to know that this project was a low priority in some people’s minds. Our team confronted the team dynamic problems and talked to each other about it to try and find ways we could improve the situation.

For the remainder of the project, I did my best to keep our team spirit up so we could still end the semester on a high note. This was difficult to do because it seemed like no matter what, some people on the team were disengaged and detached from what we were trying to accomplish.

Post-Thanksgiving: Producing Deliverables

After the break, our team came back refreshed and ready to work. We met up to re-define and finalize our intervention ideas. It’s interesting that in the end, what made it to the final show wasn’t too far off from what we were thinking of doing before Thanksgiving break. The main difference was that the ideas were a lot more thought out. Instead of creating a list of questions to ask the storeowner and customers directly, we built our interventions around the prompts to gather responses in a more “designed” way. It took a while for us to settle on the design of the interventions because we each had differing opinions about the medium, method and style of approach we wanted to use.

We debated each possible intervention idea heavily, considering a few key points along the way. For example:

  • How does this intervention involve more than just one person’s efforts?
  • Do we get a sense of the community’s thoughts or feelings when looking at the data from the intervention?
  • What residue does this intervention produce for us as designers but also for the participants involved?
  • How will the information collected be utilized in the research output?
  • Does the design make sense given the constraints tied to space and time?
  • Why are we interested in collecting this sort of data? What does it tell us?

Logging Location: Intervention Process

I was responsible for creating one of the map-based interventions. The activity asks customers to place a push pin on the map to show what neighborhood they’re from. We are interested in knowing how far people have to travel to get to the corner store. We hypothesize that most of the customers live close by. We assume they mostly travel on foot or bike to get to the corner store. It should be a much shorter commute than what they would have to do to get to a grocery story or food bank which is probably more than a mile away given that they’re in food deserts.

The research results that would come out of this study would be interesting to compare to the other intervention data. Ji Tae’s activity asks customers about the commute they take to get any fresh produce. Ty’s activity gathers data on what people commonly buy at the store and why, which is key information to find out because we want to understand their shopping and eating behaviors. Popo’s intervention asks customers what they would like to see offered in the store that isn’t currently sold there from fruits to meats and vegetables. We made sure to include an “Other” category as well because there may be non-food related items that people want which we might not have considered.

Initial designs for the research intervention

Questions and Feedback

I asked my teammates for feedback on the initial designs. The top left design highlights the different neighborhoods in yellow, blocking them out so they are more distinct. I don’t think the execution was very good. The yellow color doesn’t add contrast to the map. It blends in to the rest of it, making it actually harder to decipher what you’re looking at. The top right design calls out the name of the neighborhood more clearly. In the bottom design, I stripped away the unnecessary landmarks and information. I blocked out the neighborhoods in gray and labeled them by name very clearly. It’s a very simplified map.

My teammates liked the simplified design the most. I brought up that I was concerned people would not care to mark where exactly in the area they’re from (since we’re interested also in distance traveled) and not know how to since the small streets have been erased. They suggested that I put back the street names for the main roads that people are familiar with (ex: Baum Blvd, Forbes Ave, etc). That way, they can more closely estimate where they live on the map since they would recognize the roads closest to them.

Final intervention design

I’m really happy with how the final intervention turned out. We decided to throw in the color and align on a typeface choice to be consistent across the designs. I went out and bought push pins for people to place on the map at the project fair. I mounted the print out on cardboard.

Project Summary — Produce and Corner Stores


According to a study done in 2012 by the Department of Treasury, 47 percent of Pittsburgh residents struggle to obtain fresh produce on a daily basis because they reside in communities known as food deserts. For these neighborhoods, the grocery stores are located over a mile away and on top of that, there is limited access to public transportation. Our team is investigating the buying and eating habits of corner store customers living in food deserts. We are interested in knowing their motivations for shopping at a corner store. How can four related interactive design interventions, placed within the setting of a convenience store, aid our understanding of their subsistence needs of Pittsburgh residents living in food-insecure areas?


The designed interventions would engage corner store customers in a series of four activities based on their shopping and eating habits. There are two map-related activities which inquire about location data and their methods for obtaining subsistence. One activity asks customers to mark which neighborhood they live in. The results are publicly displayed for everyone to see and comment on. The data will reveal if people travel from nearby or far away neighborhoods to visit the corner store. The other activity asks visitors to report where they go to obtain fresh produce and more importantly, how they get there. Each customer will create a unique report of this information, allowing us to understand what transportation methods are commonly used in their commute. The third interactive activity asks the customer to explain their reasoning for purchasing an item at the corner store. We want to know what factors, from convenience to price, influenced their shopping agenda. Lastly, at the cash register, we set up an interactive activity asking customers to tell us what items they would like to see sold in the store that isn’t currently there from household items to fresh produce (meat, fruit, vegetables).


Through these designed interventions, we will be able to understand how residents of Pittsburgh, living in food deserts, utilize the local corner stores in their area based on their self-reported shopping and eating habits. If the data we collect from these interventions show that Pittsburgh residents have a desire to shop for or obtain fresh produce from their local corner store, we imagine that future interventions would be directed at corner store owners, food bank organizers and policy makers to understand how we might move such a proposal forward. Pittsburgh residents would no longer have to spend time and money traveling to far away grocery stores and food banks to get fresh food on the table. We believe that these designed interventions would have the potential to reduce the amount of food deserts in Pittsburgh.

Final Thoughts

I’m relieved that our team was able to pull through and display a handful of well-made interventions at the final project fair. This was one of the toughest, if not the hardest, design studio course I’ve taken as a student at CMU. I think so many of us struggled through this class because we felt conflicted about it and how the course was being taught. It didn’t feel great to be guinea pigs for transition design. I wish a lot of things had been done differently. I learned a whole lot in the process. We’ve all grown in our own ways throughout these past few months. I definitely learned a lot about how to handle team conflicts (although I’m not sure we were all that successful) and step up to be a good team leader. I’m curious to know how this class will be run differently in the future. I agreed with so much of the feedback given by other students on our last day together:

  • I really wish my team could have gone out to visit some corner stores to conduct research in-person. It’s a problem that we designed off of our own assumptions. We would have been able to think of much more creative interventions had we gone out to visit corner stores and get a sense of the space. An hour of deep hanging out at these corner stores could have been super beneficial to us.
  • A lot of us expressed our concerns early on in the semester about how we wouldn’t feel comfortable putting these projects in our portfolios because they are not steeped in any real research which is so important to many of us in how we work. I know I could “reframe” how I present this project to people and emphasize that we were making as a form of inquiry and for research but of the employers and designers I’ve talked to, they all value field research. I think it’s so important.
  • I wish we could have given more feedback throughout the semester to the professors on how we were feeling (about the course material, projects, etc.) but there weren’t many opportunities to do so. After a few weeks of class it seemed like a lot of people started to lose interest in what we were doing because it was so conceptual and hard to grasp. Many of us found it difficult to stay focused and motivated when the environment didn’t really reinforce that sort of attitude.
  • I wish that the frameworks we had learned at the start of the semester tied more heavily into the final work that we produced. I would have liked to show the diagrams and work we completed in the first half at the fair. I think it would have helped spark conversation about transition design and it would have given us an opportunity to explain our personal take on it.
  • I liked Angee and Emily’s feedback that it would have been nice to do smaller scale projects throughout the semester. This studio course could have benefited from more workshops and guest lectures from people practicing transition design. I really liked Molly’s workshop on service design. I learned so much in just one class period and we were able to make a quick prototype of an idea that we were proud of.
  • Many of us agree with Juliana’s feedback that updating our Medium felt more of a chore than something we looked forward to doing. I think it’d be great if you gave more feedback on how we could improve our Medium posts individually throughout the semester. I was never sure how often the professors read our posts. That definitely affected my motivation to keep updating this article. It could be nice to give us all the last ten minutes of class time to update our Mediums while the events and ideas are still fresh in our minds. It’s hard to reflect on what happened in studio after a whole day’s worth of classes and other assignments.
  • I’m sad that Terry wasn’t able to attend our project fair or see the work we put up in the Senior Show. I really enjoyed her lectures in the first half of the semester. I would have loved to get guidance from her in the second half when we struggled to understand what we were doing.
  • At different points in this project, we were given very different feedback from the two professors on what to do next. Sometimes we’d leave studio feeling energized and motivated, ready to develop our ideas. Then we’d come back a few days later and find out that we were going in the wrong direction. I didn’t like that the professors rotated between groups every other class. It would have been nice to work with one of the professors for the entirety of the semester so they could know our problems deeply and give us valuable advice. A lot of time was spent catching up the professors on where we were now and what we did last week. I would have liked to check in with the professor and get going with ideas and conversations right away.

I have many more thoughts I’d like to share about the course but I think these cover the main points I want to express. I’m glad that we went through with doing a semester of transition design. I’m excited to see what comes out of our last semester here at Carnegie Mellon. I’m looking forward to doing work that I’m passionate about. It has been such an eye-opening semester.