Design Research Studio — Reflections + Assignments

Here is where all my reflections and writings for Design Research Studio @ Carnegie Mellon live.

8.29.2017 _ intro to class + Meadows reading _ In class, we had a great overview of wicked problems and an introduction to transition design(t.d) with Terry. I remember hearing about t.d. when we were freshmen and honestly having little idea as to what it meant. Now that I’m a senior and have knowledge of service design and have been practicing systems-based thinking, it makes so much more sense as to 1. what it is and 2. why it is incredibly important to implement to enact actual social innovation. When taking Futures last year, I always wondered how we can actually practice futurism and future-forward thinking to actuate change. To me, t.d. is a great way to practice futurism that propagates real results.

The Meadows reading was very much tied into what we discussed in class re: social innovation. While all of the points that Meadows makes about potential leverage points for social innovation hold somewhat true, I can’t help but think that this reading is quite optimistic. I think that yes, there are definitely leverage points that we can find through those different investigations into system goals, mindsets of the system, information flows, etc., there is a level of uncertainty that we cannot predict and I do not think that Meadows emphasizes that enough. I suppose this is when the “wait and observe” part of the transition design process comes in and should have been incorporated, but then again, it is a paper written in 1999 and sort of ahead of its time already.

9.03.2017 _ Ojai reading _ The Ojai reading is very helpful in seeing how we can apply the transition design model to a large, wicked problem and evaluate what our current and future intervention points are. It isn’t easy to wrap your head around these wicked problems and I think this Ojai framing within transition design is helpful in that we can see multiple ways of understanding an issue. I think that to apply this Ojai model to my group’s topic of access to quality education would definitely be a starting point in beginning to understand at least a small part of this larger, complex wicked problem.

As for the preliminary research on this project, I chose to just attempt to get a better understanding of current teaching and education quality standards and the current projects that are in place to try and fix them.

National Education Standards (List)

  • lists standards of education, both nationally and state-wide.

National Council on Teacher Quality (Roadmap)

“improving policies and practices in Pittsburgh schools”

  • details the enrollment decline of Pittsburgh public schools
  • wrestling with the challenges of enrollment stabilization and lagging behind national standards for testing and reading proficiency
“Officials in Pittsburgh Public Schools describe it as a challenging place; that is, it is struggling to stabilize enrollment and the current level of spending is widely considered to be unsustainable.”
“Academically, Pittsburgh has demonstrated progress in the past decade, but important indicators make clear that it still lags behind the state average.”
  • graduation rates from high schools in Pittsburgh specifically are 15% less than state averages
  • Pittsburgh Promise was created to incentivize remaining in school through awarding scholarships to qualified youth. As of April 2014, $50 million has been awarded in scholarships to Pittsburgh youth.

Identification of key conditions for potential success that they identified:

  • “The district has strong data management systems in place and uses them effectively.” Current district data management systems are strong, but there is anxiety and trepidation about alignments across departments and sustainability in the long-term. Data is important to identify potential areas of improvement and also to project
  • “Communication between the district office and school staff and between teachers and administrators is consistent and flows both ways. Feedback is encouraged.” Currently, teachers are engaged, but there is frustration that final decisions do not always reflect or acknowledge teachers’ feedback. This could potentially hurt the talent base if teachers do not feel like their work is appreciated.
  • “The union and the district have a history of collaboration” and continue to do so. “The district and union work together to effectively advocate for resources.” In advocating for each group, all stakeholders can have a shared understanding of the experience and the emotions of either side.
potential intervention points that the National Council on Teacher Quality proposes.

One Pennsylvania

“One Pennsylvania unites low income and working class activists with the support of a broad coalition of community, labor, faith, and students’ organizations. Our members are workers, students, parents, seniors, people with disabilities, and retirees who are excited to learn, collaborate, and build power. Together, we tackle the fundamental economic justice and political participation problems of our community.”
  • this organization seeks to surface social, racial, and accessibility issues related to education in the greater PA area.

Access to High Quality Education in Pittsburgh: A Case Study

  • examines the Career Ladder Model in Pittsburgh, a program that “offered qualified teachers the opportunity to take on a promotional role that allowed them to stay in the classroom while taking on leadership responsibilities and earning increased pay”

Great Public Schools

  • attempts to address the financial and infrastructural downfalls of the Pittsburgh Public School system via campaigning, proposals, and a roadmap of tangible and actionable tasks to help move towards this goal.
“The Pittsburgh Public School district has faced persistent financial challenges and is currently projected to go bankrupt in 2016. The city’s population decline has contributed to the problem, as the number of school-aged children dipped 29% from 2000–2010, down to the current 37,000. With fewer students, aging infrastructure, and a burdensome debt load, Pittsburgh has struggled to keep its costs down without raising property taxes.”
“We must address the long-standing disparities in our city, with far too many families living in poverty and students of color lacking equitable access to opportunities. We believe a community schools strategy that makes schools the hearts of our neighborhoods is the most important improvement we can make in the coming years.”

9.04.2017_ problem definition and group meeting_ we met and discussed lots and lots of issues that we discovered in our individual research. We started our research at a pretty broad level, investigating and talking about high-level factors at play with regard to access to quality education. There’s a lot at play here and many of these issues tend to be agnostic to Pittsburgh specifically — things like perception of education, federal/state infrastructure, and the curriculum and teaching quality. Over the next few days, we plan to delve deeper into the issues, focusing on Pittsburgh-specific problems. The current post-it note “map” is down below:

9.09.2017_ problem reframing + mapping_we met up as a group and discussed our existing post-it notes that framed the major themes in our research about access to education in Pittsburgh. Last class, we got feedback regarding the specificity of our post-its; namely, that they were too general and not specific enough to Pittsburgh-related issues. We also needed to reframe the overarching issues as actual issues, not just themes. This helped in the next step when we started mapping the issues and organizing them into a STEEP (Social, Technological, Environmental, Ecological, Political) matrix.

When re-evaluating the overarching issues we identified, we made sure to include who the issue was directly affecting and why it was important. This way we had key demographics and new root causes to investigate. When organizing these issues into the STEEP matrix, things got slightly more challenging — some issues did not fit neatly into one category, but fit in multiple. We expected this, since all the issues at play in access to education are linked to one another in implicit or explicit ways, consistent with the definition of a wicked problem (such as policy + its ties to inadequate distribution of funds). We did our best for now, but plan to expand on these issues and refine some of our problem definitions in the next round.

9.10.2017_ Capra reading + reflection_I enjoyed this reading, but also had a lot of hesitancy about accepting every point that Capra made. First, I think that deep ecology is definitely a very viable way and methodology (?) to question our actions, worldviews, and values. Deep ecology “recognizes the intrinisic values of all living things and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life” (Capra, A New Paradigm, 91) and I agree with this stance. I believe that humans tend to view themselves as superior due to self-awareness. We are not like squirrels or other wild animals that seek to live in the world as its meant to be lived in, but instead innovate beyond what (maybe) we’re supposed to. Deep ecology is an incredibly difficult state to achieve and Capra touches on this — that being said, I think its harder for some than others when there exists a culture that has a strong “it is what it is” mindset.

Capra also touches upon “ecofeminism” and ingrained hierarchy in our culture. While I agree that there is an ingrained hierarchy in our culture/society, I vehemently disagree with the use and creation of the word “ecofeminism.” The entire reading, Capra discusses how humans must see ourselves as part of this web of life, interconnected with all the species and responsible for our actions and subsequent consequences. We need to dismantle this hierarchy in order to engage in true deep ecological thought and practices — this is where Capra introduces ecofeminism, using it to mean the introduction of equality between men/women. If we’re talking about equality here, why such a feminine word? Maybe its because I have a very negative connotation of the word feminism and I attribute it to a lot of misandrists parading as true feminists, but I suggest a different word to describe this movement away from hierarchy.

Another part of the Capra reading that I had mixed feelings about was his statement about what society values. He mentions assertiveness, competition, and domination are both rewarded and very “male” traits. I agree with the statement about how competitiveness/power grabbing is rewarded since I see this all the time in work culture: “moving up the food chain” and promotions being things we are supposed to aspire to by being aggressive. Capra also claims that men have a harder time changing their worldview because of these traits — I disagree. I think it depends on the person and I don’t see any citations that support this rather punitive assertion that every man has difficulty moving beyond this world view.

That being said, however, I strongly agree with Capra that we must balance ethics with innovation and discovery. If it requires destruction of nature or values to discover something, then I don’t believe it is worth it. In some workplaces and cultures, it is taboo to even discuss the ethical concerns of actions that generate income or innovation — we call this whisteblowing and its anathema to me that it’s a criminal offense. When humans use their position of power to hide negative consequences to other humans, they become the definition of inhumane. One such example of this that comes to mind is Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson. He is the posterboy of fracking, rejecting any scientific evidence that fracking is bad for both the environment and the people within that environment. He petitions for fracking opportunities near peoples homes and has utmost disregard for those who reject fracking. That being said, he’s now part of a lawsuit against his hometown in Texas that will place a water tower to fuel a fracking site next to his house. When fracking affects him directly, its terrible, but when it concerns “those other people,” then its just dandy. This whole me vs. them mentality is part of the hierarchy and the ethics arguments that Capra makes and I definitely agree that it affects so deeply.

9.12.2017_ Stakeholders + Research into Drug Use in PA Schools _ the group did some brainstorming into the stakeholders, at least the immediately obvious ones:

  • Taxpayers
  • Parents
  • Students
  • Board of Education Members
  • Policy Makers: Lobbyists/Senators/etc.
  • Teachers
  • Charter/Private Schools
  • Employers

That’s just a taste for now. Additionally, each member of the group did more specific, Pittsburgh-based research into the major thematic issues from our brainstorming sessions. I chose to investigate how drug use affects access to quality education in Pittsburgh:

Pitt News — Heroin a Problem for Teens — Younger and younger people are looking to heroin and prescription opioids as a drug of choice.

WPXI — Some Western PA school districts stocking heroin antidote Narcan — A few schools began stocking Narcan with the rise of heroin use amongst families and students in the area. Not only is this a social issue, but also takes away budgeting towards education. I would also argue that this issue is related to some policy regarding drug use in Pittsburgh/federally and the larger, more widespread opioid epidemic.

WPXI — DEA selects Pittsburgh as 1st pilot city for strategy to address drug abuse, violent crime — Pittsburgh is definitely struggling with regards to both drug use and high crime rates, its interesting that it is a priority city with regards to this strategic DEA program.

9.17.2017_Jungk + Block readings_I thought it was interesting to pair these readings together because of how different they are.

Block’s reading was more about the qualitative way in which we can create structures within communities to further bolster and enable communities and people to enact change. I agree with this, but a lot of this reading came across as quite idealized and generalized in the wrong way. Block states that “our isolation occurs because of western culture, our individualistic narrative, etc.” (Block, 2), but he leaves out so many other factors that relate to our current state of individualism. Block’s fluff statements, such as talking about how our society “[is] a far cry from the day of kids walking home …and casually seeing who they ran into” (Block, 2), tend to detract from this overarching, compelling narrative he seeks to communicate. Block also touches upon themes we’ve already talked about — systemic thinking as a measure for creating actionable goals for the community, bringing multiple perspectives together, and thinking towards future possibilities of communities. I agreed with most of what Block says in this writing, but he needs to state these more overtly without trivial rhetoric that detract from his message.

I appreciated Jungk’s approach a lot more due to his to-the-point prose. He mentions that a lot of decisions are made today “over peoples heads” that invite participation, yet don’t actually factor in the peoples’ best interests. A lot of the time, the mindset with which these decisions are made end up coming back around and affecting the organization(s) that made this decision. I see a lot of this happening in our government right now — one such example is the end of DACA, a program that “an American immigration policy that allowed some individuals who entered the country illegally as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit” (Wikipedia). The end of this program was beneficial to those who agree with upholding stricter immigration policy, but this decision does not factor in how we will lose a significant portion of our workforce, and thus a significant portion of GDP. It also has social reverberations — America is proud of its diversity, acceptance, and heterogeneity, but we are going against that word and actively kicking people out.

Jungk also mentions how we can better get involvement from communities to make the correct decisions by holding futurist workshops because “the future belongs to everybody” (Jungk, 9). I definitely resonated with this part of the reading —

“[the] indifference [of people] disappears once people learn that they can really join in the planning and decision making process” (Jungk, 13)

I’ve seen this in action. During my summer, I conducted interviews with call center agents to determine how to best redesign the experience of the software they were using. I didn’t just design something and throw it at them, assuming it would fix the problems they encountered — I set up conversations and prototyping sessions to have them give their input. The solutions/set of solutions are not about what you think is best, its about what is actually best. That’s what I think Jungk is getting at here — its about bringing people together, discussing and understanding that different perspectives exist and there exists no “one size fits all” solution here. You gotta get a little dirty to find the root of the issue and that doesn’t happen without cooperation.

9.19.2017_Dator Reading_A lot of this reading covers material that I’ve seen before in our Futures class with Peter Scupelli, but it was still refreshing to get new perspectives and another general overview of futures studies. We talked in class about thinking about future generations — not only of human generations, but of all generations. Dator says:

“We now live in a world of perpetual change and novelty — where that which is unprecedented overwhelms whatever continuity from the past might linger on.”

This is definitely true and part of the reason that we are in this state of perpetual change is because we are progress obsessed, going forward and trailblazing for new innovations, regardless of the consequences. Coal mining was a huge deal when it came about since it meant the creation of jobs, processing of fossil fuels, and new industry to boost the economy. We never really thought about how it might affect the quality of life of people, environments, and society and that’s why we have so many issues with it today. It now is so enmeshed in the web of economy, _society, and politics that it is nearly impossible to argue opposition, despite all of coal mining’s negative affects.Dator claims that futurists are architects and this part of the reading definitely resonated with me. We create multiple blueprints for the multiple, probable futures based upon incredible amounts of research, hypothesizing, and speculation. We set up the scaffolding for direction of pretty much anything — society, politics, etc. and that definitely determines how we might intervene.

9.22.2017–9.24.2017_Candy Lectures | Candy-Dator Reading | Alternate Futures_this week, Stuart Candy gave us a week-long “workshop” and lecture series on alternate futures. I remember a lot of this content from Peter Scuppeli’s Futures class from last year — for example, the theory that there is not one future, there are multiple and there exists both possible and probable ones. The part of the lectures that intrigued me the most were the visuals that Stuart introduced into play — they helped to visualize the parts of Futures that perhaps flew under the radar for me.

We discussed different methodologies for creating future scenarios and one we explored was alternate Futures: creating several, differing visions, all of which represent something about a potential future. Transformative, Collapse, Discipline, and Growth all demonstrate different types of trajectories that a community, organization, etc. may go. The reading tied into what we discussed in class — creating realistic scenarios that demonstrate the different types of scenario creation. Our group found the methodologies regarding the breakdown of STEEP forces in the reading helpful to creating our own, Transformative scenario. I think that it’s incredibly helpful to reference these texts that give examples in order to better understand how we might attack these wicked problems and dive deeper.

We also discussed normative and explorative Futures, another set of lenses to wear when exploring future scenarios. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp at the future with so many tools at my disposal and an infiniteness of possibilities. They are all so valuable and show you different aspects of the future.


What’s happening in 2050? How did it happen? This is what the future horizons method discusses. H1 is maintenance of current methods, lifestyles, and culture. H2 is disruptive and finds opportunities of change, while h3 is completely transformative and “transitions towards regenerative cultures” (wahl, 3).

9.30.2017_Wahl reading

I think this reading was one of the more realistic readings we’ve had assigned. It discussed the 3 horizons methodology and its value — “to become more aware of how our individual and collective intentions and behaviours actively shape the future today” (wahl, 3). I identified with this quote in particular because it draws out that the future and the multiple potential futures are all our responsibility, especially as designers entering the work force. Wahl’s reading also discusses the importance of h1 and h2 as balancing and differing horizons to h3 — namely that they show what we need to address with regards to conflicts and how we can avoid the same mistakes we may be making today.


We talked about how to better our process work today. It’s kind of challenging to balance the art of process work — I think that it’s important to have really sketchy work (aka work that communicates with the self) and also work that is more for display (work that communicates to everyone else). It’s funny because putting post it notes up and ideating really is a balance of hierarchy, context, clarity, and intrigue — the same way we think about our final projects.

Manfred Max-Neef’s theory of needs — uncoupling our needs from the way we satisfy our needs. They are the same group of needs for everyone, but the way we satisfy our needs differs by generation, context, etc. Subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, idleness, creation, identity, freedom. The things that satisfy these needs are called satisfies and they are put into different categories; violators, pseudo satisfiers, and inhibiting satisfiers. These categories describe the behavior of the satisfier and whether or not they are truly satisfactory. He claims that solutions that solve complex problems are called synergistic solutions.

Synergistic design solutions — solutions that address multiple issues. We don’t want them to be pseudo-synergetic solutions — solutions that appear to fulfill a need but actually do not/have adverse effects. Look at the cellphone for example. It’s a novel piece of technology, enabling instant communication across the globe from wherever, whenever. That being said, it’s caused other, unintended effects — dissolving relationships, causing car accidents, creating distraction. We need to think about both good and bad consequences of everything we design and put out into the world.

In applying all this crazy terminology to what we’re doing in studio, it’s a strategy to identify true synergistic satisfiers within some of our proposed Futures. Are our “solutions” truly synergistic, or are they inhibitive/destructive to our ideal future or set of Futures? We need to make sure our futures address true NEEDS, not WANTS.

What is the day to day life like in these Futures? What context is it in? What level of scale is the lifestyle we are designing living at — the home, the city, the region, the world? How can our futures have synergistic ways to promote culture and address Max-Neef’s needs?

When we lose control of local satisfiers, the local satisfiers completely break down and externalize, causing our symbiotic local relationships to break down. Think of large companies that outsource customer services to outside the country. Not only are we relying on cheap labor, but we are no longer supported locally and thus must outsource our resources. We lose touch with this business and it feels so much bigger than us — no more face to face. It is a non-place based lifestyle.

In order to better understand Max-Neef’s theory of needs, we applied the needs satisfied/inhibited to objects we used in real life. I chose the activity of drawing in two different ways: analog drawing (on paper) and digital drawing (on a tablet/IPad). While it was easier to pick out needs satisfied, it was more challenging to identify needs inhibited amongst the two objects since I find that they are so ingrained in an activity I do daily. Additionally, I struggled with finding a place for larger consequences of these objects that I believe still affected my needs — things like environmental and social consequences. I think there’s a place for that within max-neef’s theory and, given the state of our world, a very necessary place for an environmental satisfier.

10.08.2017–10.23.2017_group progress/work up to this point_I realized that I hadn’t updated what our group work has been in the past few weeks, so here’s a little narrative and image collection that should refresh both your and my own memories regarding what our group has done so far!

After creating an initial map of the system(s) and issues at play within education, we made a high-level stakeholder map. This is to document all the people and processes involved in education that have a stake in the issues related to education and accessibility.

Once we created this stakeholder map, we chose 3 main stakeholders with differing views and mapped their agreements and disagreements on issues. This is integral to the stakeholder process because it puts into perspective that we cannot make everyone happy in this situation, but can find commonalities between stakeholders despite their differences. Through establishment of common ground between stakeholders, we can start the conversation regarding how to keep the integrity of these agreements between stakeholders.

connecting stakeholders

After identifying stakeholders, we attempted to pull together a narrative of a potential future using STEEP forces — Social, Technological, Economical, Environmental, and Political forces — within the context of an alternative future. We learned about alternative futures in the class Futures with Peter Scupelli. They are different ways to interpret the future that demonstrate a spectrum of possible futures. There exist many ways to construct alternate Futures, but we focused on four possible lenses: Transform, Collapse, Growth, and Discipline. Each group was assigned a different lens to construct a scenario and map the STEEP forces. Our lens was “transform.” We imagined a world where, following a huge environmental crisis involving contaminants of the river, rising water levels displacing citizens, and a collapse of the coal industry, Pittsburgh would completely transform their main economic industry, energy sources, and education system.

Mapping STEEP forces of our Transform alternate future

It was challenging to ensure we had mapped the appropriate level of STEEP forces — there are many levels of scope and scale at play when mapping a future.

Our future “Transform” narrative revolved around an environmental crisis due to the rising of the highly contaminated Three Rivers. By consequence, it would displace people and negatively affect infrastructure, leading to a transformation of local Pittsburgh industries in response to this catastrophe. Pittsburgh would focus on green education and green energy, implementing education programs about living sustainably into all public schools. As a result of the rise of green energy, Pittsburgh local government and the Board of Education would set aside funding for coal and industrial workers to receive a re-education stipend to receive vocational school funding to work in green energy. Life-long learning would be on the rise as more and more adults and elderly would return to school for education in more sustainable fields. Education for youth would change as the curriculum would shift to teaching sustainable habits, gardening, and more qualitative skills that would enhance the quality of their lives.

We ended up revising the Transform alternate future to create an ideal future that we could examine in the context of the present time. What value did we want to bring to education? What simple or complex issues needed to be addressed before we could move forward? What would need to happen in order to enable change? How were we going to get there by 2050? We plotted this revised, ideal narrative in the context of the 3 Horizons model — projecting what needs to happen, scenarios we need to avoid, and potential fault points that may or may not occur within the context of our future narrative.

Map of the three horizons for change

So, as you can observe, a lot needs to happen in order to even potentially enact the future that we want to shape our current realities to. There are also a lot of pitfalls and potential/actual worries that need to be taken into account. It was a challenge to make sure we covered all of our bases with regards to what potential issues and problems may arise — we always felt like there were so many more things we could discuss, but the broad scope at which we examined this potential future limited what we could deeply examine.

In order to enact a dose of time and futurism into our 3 horizon ideal future, we needed to investigate what needed to happen and when in order to reach our ideal future by 2050. In order to do so, we used a timeline to map when certain events, policy changes, and economic/social changes might happen.

the timeline

The timeline was a challenge because we needed to orient the content from the 3 Horizons model into actionable tasks in a given time context. Uncertainty and discomfort about the future is a given when doing these futurism exercises, so it was occasionally difficult for us to discuss when certain events would happen.

In addition to the timeline, we also created artifacts to highlight key aspects of our ideal future: a kid’s qualitative and environmental learning kit to show a new model of education, a parents/community magazine to highlight the curriculum and community events, and also graphs and charts to highlight the potential effect the changed curriculum had on the students with regards to literacy and graduation rates.

the whole group discussing what the timeline should look like; the collection of our artifacts
artifacts we designed to show the narrative of this ideal future

Once we had fleshed out the timeline, our ideal future, and discussed several other narratives about the potential futures of access to public education, we moved onto the next step: defining intervention points. We proposed six different intervention points, framing their fulfillment within the context of Max-Neefs needs satisfied/inhibited:

  • K-12 Apprenticeship/Mentorship programs — expose kids to hobbies and jobs they may be interested in, have mentorship/someone to look up to.
  • Greater support for adult learning for new job opportunities a.k.a. “life long learning” — accessible re-education based on shifting job markets to create education support for all ages
  • Environmental Exposure programs to teach students about how they fit in the greater environmental system — awareness and exposure to consequences of how humans live leads to potentially more sustainable lifestyles that students may lead later on.
  • Qualitative education standards instead of standardized education baselines — students evaluated on qualitative methods instead of being sized up based on standardized testing.
  • Afterschool programs that teach life skills and support students hobbies
  • Transition to a STEAM (science, tech, economics, art, math) curriculum from a STEM program — teaches students to embrace their natural creativity.

From here, we’re going to see how we can mesh these interventions about access to public education with the other topics in the class. Excited to see what becomes of it!

10.11.2017_Service Design Workshop with Molly Steenson_Molly came in today and gave a wonderful lecture/workshop on service design.

10.15.2017_Lynn-Sosa:LEAP Dialogues Reading + Reflection_

10.18.2017_Service Innovation Workshop with Sheryl Dahle_future of fish!

Today, we had Sheryl Dahle come in and give a lecture/workshop about t.d. and social innovation using her work with sustainable fishing as a framework. I thought it was interesting to have an actual case study on social innovation — I think it cemented my understanding of social inno + t.d.

Lots of wicked problems at play in the future of fish and it seems like an extremely compelling problem space. You’re balancing your own stigmas and worldviews about society and its use of technology, perception of fishing/food, and money and projecting in on a totally different environment. I love to see where things go wrong, especially when Dahle explained mistakes and takeaways, just because it means you have to develop different understandings of these issues.

Took some notes here. Learned about a new Transition Design/Social Inno methodology (see upper right pic) that breaks down types of interventions into different categories: simple wins, low-hanging fruit, deep custom change, transition design. They are ways to categorize the interventions and also a method of ideation.

We then broke into our groups and used the matrix that Dahle explained to address the fish issues. It is surprisingly challenging to find simple wins and move away from low-hanging fruit interventions.

I like this matrix and I think its a very versatile tool that we could potentially use when moving forwards in our research groups. It helps us to find a large range of interventions we can propose that look to long- and short-term influence.

little illustration I did in class based on Sheryl Dahle’s talk.

10.25.2017_defining cross-disciplinary teams_this weekend, we broke up into our groups and took our six interventions, refined them, and then answered questions about what we wanted to learn from these interventions, potential stumbling blocks, and things to look into with regards to the intervention.

we then took our interventions and connected them to corresponding different focuses that different groups in the class were researching: affordable housing, gentrification, water quality, air quality, crime, transportation, and access to healthy food.

Each group in the class did this in an attempt to create a forum of different, cross-disciplinary interventions that other people in corresponding groups could weigh in on and find points of interest. Each group posted up their poster of their interventions and their overlaps and encouraged discussion about each intervention from members of other groups.

Afterwards, we had discussions based on other peoples’ posters and interventions, determining if we were interested in working on cross-disciplinary interventions. I found that I was most interested in how education can shape communities, so I was drawn to interventions in the crime group.

Currently, I’ve partnered with Angee, Lois, and Christie in the Crime group, determining a way to reduce crimes of opportunity, vandalism, and crimes of desperation in communities through education and partnership with local organizations.

10.28.2017_reflections on studio so far_

  • not solutions, designing interventions.
  • design research method/form of inquiry
  • use the methods we’ve learned

10.31.2017–11.08.2017_crime x education reflection + progress.

over the weekend, the crime x education group met up and we attempted to refine and analyze our research question(s).

what we have so far:

Empower and educate communities to maintain their neighborhoods with the help of an organization to reduce crime of opportunity and increase the neighborhood’s safety. Our goal is to plant the seeds of change so communities will recognize that maintenance of the neighborhood leads to better public safety.

We considered a lot of different risks and stumbling blocks we might run into: lack of trust by the community in us, potential risk of gentrification through beautification, lack of resources to enact change.

We also brainstormed a list of research questions we wanted to answer, which we continue to add to:

  • How do we increase safety of neighborhoods without leading to gentrification?
  • How can we preserve the integrity of the neighborhood, but move away from deteriorating standards/quality?
  • How can education of social responsibility and community respect generate a generational change?
  • Can we prevent adult crime (opportunity, property), while simultaneously reducing juvenile crime and delinquency
  • How can we shift the power of property value from contractors to the community homeowners?
  • How can we help the youth reclaim power to break the cycle of crime, and use that power to improve their community?
  • How do people use their time? What do they value?
  • What’s left unsaid — what are their tacit or implicit needs?
  • How do we give self awareness through our research and make it as accessible as possible?
  • When and where does the community come together?
  • What are the priorities of the community?
  • Can we curate an experience that we send out in order to gauge reactions of the community?
  • How can we get the community trust us so we get genuine answer?
  • What kind of information do we want, how can we tell their story through the information that we get?

After we thought about ways we could intervene in the system, our group was a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of responsibility in this hypothesis. Once we met with Stacie, we came to a realization that we don’t need an intervention, but rather want to come up with a research method that gives us insight into a lot of questions we’re asking.

We mostly want to know how we can give communities extra time, or at least what they need, in order to reduce petty crimes/crimes of opportunity. The thing is, that’s a big assumption on our part that we think members of these high-crime neighborhoods need more time. It may well be something else, so we need to investigate not only the communities’ needs, but also their values. What is their stance on safety, family, etc.? This is important to know if we need a shift in mindset. If people don’t understand the danger that crime or broken families pose to their safety or community, how will they be incentivized to change their neighborhoods for the better? How can we give awareness to the gravity of these issues and make people self-reflect on their values?

The challenge with coming up with this research into values and needs is trust — we want genuine, unfiltered answers, but how do we engage with the community to foster that kind of interaction. That’s what we’re trying to tackle at the moment — how do we get communities to trust outsiders?

We continue to brainstorm the best ways to approach this questions and I think that through further discussion, we can create a designed research intervention that will set us up for coming up with more deeply targeted interventions.

thinking about potential intervention points in the system in early research
realizing that we want research, not necessarily an intervention here. image on the right shows backcasting, ideal futures, timeline of events.
brainstorming our research angles

11.08.2017_further exploration in crime x education_

first, some thoughts. I think we need to break down our larger hypothesis into more of a/a collection of research-oriented questions. What answers are we seeking and how can we incorporate that into our main, broad hypothesis? Additionally, how do we sew in education into all of this? How do we incentivize the community to share their thoughts honestly with us through trust? Maybe its time to prototype and ideate just to move past these stumbling blocks.

We came back today with research and ideas about trust and building trusts with communities. I looked at some articles written about how different organization view building trust with communities: law enforcement, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, as well as Penn State’s Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education. From what I read, trust is built with:

  • open lines of communication
  • transparency
  • empathy
  • acknowledgement of biases and stereotypes

We went back to the drawing board with regards to our hypothesis in order to create a more research-oriented and concrete set of emotions/metrics we wanted to learn from the communities we were investigating.

revised hypothesis:

We aim to build trust and empathy between ourselves as designers and the community in order to establish genuine and open lines of communication. This trust needs to be established to ensure the neighborhood shares honest feedback with us regarding their values, needs, and wants without imposing our biases onto them.

Each group member also came to class with sketchy, quick ideas that came to our mind about building trust and understanding values that exist within the community:


Our sketchy ideas also had consistent values running throughout — we continually looped back to:

  • storytelling — from us and the community
  • trust through vulnerability (on our part) and listening
  • encouraging community building, sharing within the community to build a foundation

Using these values, we’re trying to come up with a few potential designed interventions based on our research and from drawing inspiration from multiple current interventions. Some examples:

Usahidi (Swahili for “Testimony”)— Stories by Kenyan citizens telling the real story of the election of Robert Mugabe in 2007 through writings, drawings, cell phone footage, and pictures.

A reflection on the power of creative storytelling to unite communities — uncovering truths, seeing the unseen, uniting communities through common ground via story sharing.

the empathy museum —walk a mile in my shoes — “A Mile in My Shoes is a shoe shop where visitors are invited to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes — literally. Housed in a giant shoebox, this exhibit holds a diverse collection of shoes and audio stories that explore our shared humanity. From a Syrian refugee to a sex worker, a war veteran to a neuro surgeon, visitors are invited to walk a mile in the shoes of a stranger whilst listening to their story.”

11.09.2017_Research + continued refinement in crime x edu_

A few things since the last update. We decided to focus on the Hill District in Pittsburgh in order to have a specific place to design for and narrow our scope further. First, we each did some research into the Hill District in order to better understand its history, its struggles, its pain, its joy, and its current state.

The Upper Hill District, left and the Lower Hill District, right. (Wikipedia)
Pittsburgh’s Hill District: Death of A Dream
“The Hill, or “Little Harlem” as it was referred to from the ’30s thru the ’50s, was one of the elite African-American neighborhoods in America. It was home to one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country, as well as one of its hottest clubs, The Crawford Grill, which was owned by Gus Greenlee.”

This jazz-centric part of the city was frequented by the likes of Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Errol Garner and Dizzy Gillespie. The Hill District was also called “Little Haiti,” the “result of [popularization by] DJ Mary Dee (Mary Dee Dudley), of WHOD Radio, the nation’s first black DJ at Pittsburgh’s only black radio station.” (Wikipedia)

The Lower Hill District in its prime (left); advertisement for Ma Rainey at the Elmore Theater (center); A performer at the immensely popular Bambola Social Club in the Hill (right).
Mary Dee Dudley, or DJ Mary Dee (Courtesy of Historical Pittsburgh)

The Hill district’s decline began when Pittsburgh, in a fervent search for “urban renewal,” demolished the Lower Hill District in an effort to update the housing infrastructure and put in place a project called the Civic Arena. This “severed the Hill District from the rest of the the surrounding neighborhoods,” displacing thousands of residents who were originally promised adequate temporary housing, and led to the Lower Hill’s subsequent economic decay.

the Civic Arena (left). Interior shot (right). Courtesy of
Demolition of the Civic Arena (Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

The Civic Arena was a site for music performances, NAACP freedom rallies, and the Poor Peoples March throughout the 60’s. It is now closed and demolished, but the site holds immense emotional value, both as a site for black culture and society, but also is a painful historical reminder of how poor city planning foresight led to the Hill’s demise and displacement.

images of the current state of the Hill District. Courtesy of

That being said, there is hope for The Hill District. Efforts are being made to bring the spotlight on this jazz gem of the city through community development. see

11.12.2017_share-out of group research and structure of presentation, ideation_

Unkept promises — The city of Pittsburgh holds town halls to discuss renovation projects, yet none are successful, mostly due to a lack of trust and a fundamental misunderstanding of what the residents want for their future. This can be seen in the case Bedford Dwelling properties, with the city calling this large, low-income residence a “nuisance property” and setting aside $500,000 for redevelopment. The city of Pittsburgh has attempted to initiate conversations with community leaders, but its been unsuccessful:

This week’s meeting was the first in a series city officials say will give Hill District residents a say in the plan for re-development in their community. But some residents at the first installment remain concerned their voices won’t be heard.
“There’s no voice for us,” said James Alston. “They keep holding meetings to tell us what they’re going to do, not ask us.” (Source)

We decided to pivot away from our original hypothesis here. We want everyone’s voice to be heard and, in order to do so, we want to start conversations between decision-makers and the community. We want to put the power back into the hands of the citizens of the Hill district in a familiar, no-frills setting that is comfortable. It’s appalling that legislators impose their beliefs on a community without truly understanding the community’s needs — that cycle needs to end.

Our current hypothesis: initiate conversations and begin a discussion amongst the members of the Hill district about their thoughts on safety, community, family, etc. with the intention of broadening their audience. We would host this event/discussion/dinner party at a familiar place, like Grandma B’s, in order to further discussion in a comfortable setting.

left, Grandma B’s storefront. right, customers interviewed about Trump (via NBC Pittsburgh)

11.13.2017_Rapid Feedback session To-Do’s_Today, we engaged in a rapid feedback session regarding our ideas

  • structuring the conversation/activity, having a script
  • interactions and activities paired up with the conversation (example, “once you get a cup of coffee, introduce yourself to your partner”)
  • Asking the right questions: what brings you here? what does x mean to you?
  • Being clear about our intent. What are we trying to get out of this?
  • How does this progress? Does it turn into a self-driven activity for the community to do?
  • Taking away the training wheels — less structure over time.
  • Start light, get less intense
  • What takeaways are there? — they should points of contact, ways to get involved?
  • How do we start this activity? Does it start as invite-only, then does it open to all?

there’s a lot to think about with regards to how to frame and structure these dinners. One of the most effective pieces of feedback we received was “why not just start the conversation removed from a special event?” By slowly incorporating discussion points and subtle conversation indicators, we might be able to prime our audience to have discussions amongst themselves and with people around them.

11.17.17_ a trip to Grandma B’s_Today, we went to Grandma B’s to actually see what the environment was. We specifically did not ambush the owners and workers at Grandma B’s with our prompt/hypothesis because we felt we needed to get a feel for the environment first in order to formulate an appropriate approach/pitch to Grandma B’s. I don’t think we were ready to pitch the idea, either — the way we would need to formulate our pitch would be important in order to not come across as condescending or that we were attempting to do something the Hill District wouldn’t appreciate.

left, gravy fries. right, grandma B’s whiteboard.
left, enjoying our food. right, Grandma B’s owner Dorian talks with customers as he prepares french toast.

This experience helped to shift our idea of what the deliverables might be — we began to shift away from deliverables that may not fit within the space, such as placemats or bulletin boards. We also brainstormed what kind of feedback loop we wanted to provide the community.