CELaunchpad Pt.2:Design, design…and some more design!

For those curious for some context, part 1.

Myself and three other volunteers lined up for a round of Yes, and. For those unfamiliar, the game embodies an improv principle that states improvisers must always build upon whatever situation or storyline that is being created. If I say to you, “crazy weather out today huh?” responding with:

“Nah, I think it’s fine.” would not be in the spirit of Yes, and.

Instead, you might say “Oh my gosh right? Who knew chocolate rain was a real thing?”

A woman from the Innovation and Technology team proposed the following topic. How do we increase the number of pet owners in Philadelphia? In the spirit of Yes and, any and all suggestions were valid. The person to my right offered, “more poo bag stations around the city!” I responded in kind,

“Yes! And pizza incentives for pet owners!”

The person to my left added, “Yes, and city-sponsored puppy sessions in the parks!”

Sure at the end of these exercises, many ideas had to be thrown out. But Yes, and fosters a spirit of open-mindedness and affirmation of your teammates. And it is in this spirit that we were meant to come up with unique solutions to the civic problems faced not just in Philly, but nation-wide.

Having gotten our creative juices flowing, every team was ready to participate in ADVANCED WHITEBOARDING.

The Innovation team explained that building an application or a solution of any kind means knowing who is taking advantage of your solution. Is it company executives? Religious leaders of the town? Fourth and fifth graders? Knowing our “stakeholders” would enable us to build smarter, more informed, and effective types of solutions.

While I readily admit that knowing your users is very important for application development, I was not so enthusiastic about ADVANCED WHITEBOARDING, and I hope you’ll see why.

First, we just threw any group of individuals on the whiteboard. Simple enough. But then, they wanted us to organize these groups into higher-level categories (through the use of arrows and circles).

That left side was even scarier -_-

But it was a helpful exercise in establishing a few potential audiences our gerrymandering app might serve. One main group was advocacy groups who worked to inform the general population about the goings-on of everyday politics and inspire the average citizen to participate. A couple of other groups we had in mind were teachers/educators as well as the uninformed voter. Someone who may vote for the president, but not necessarily know what’s going on at the local level.

Fleshing out these groups helped us understand that our app has to educate and provide information in a clear and simple-to-understand manner since our potential audience were not individuals necessarily knowledgeable of the nuances of politics/elections.

The next whiteboarding session had us come up with solutions that could be categorized in one of five ways. Furthermore, we had to come up with solutions to gerrymandering that targets each of our specific stakeholder groups. And each member was required to come up with a few solutions. Unfortunately I don’t have a pic of this one, but imagine a cascade of post-it notes (and silver sticker stars used for voting on the best solutions) covering nearly every inch of a white board.

This is ADVANCED WHITEBOARDING after all, so once we voted on our favorite solutions, we then graphed those solutions on a matrix that gauged both the impact and cost-of-resources of each solution.

That clean slope of post-its took a solid 45 mins. Also note star stickers.

ADVANCED WHITEBOARDING was now complete. We had a better sense of our userbase and a rough estimate of what tasks to prioritize. The design stage was complete. Time to program! Or so we thought.

In the afternoon, two very friendly (and very eager) mentors showed interest in my team’s project. So much so that they thought another round of ADVANCED WHITEBOARDING would enable us to craft a god-level product.

And so, because we were all shy developers unable to speak up and say, “Hey we already did this!” our afternoon was spent answering questions like, “What kind of journey do we want our users to embark upon?” and “Walk us through every step of the application, but without actually getting into the technical implementations.”


First, we established high-level goals. Then we organized those goals into epochs. Then we prioritized the top 3 epochs. Then we broke the epochs into stories. Then we prioritized the top ten stories. And by 6pm, our team had designed and redesigned, stated and restated, voted and prioritized the purpose of our application. It was an intense day of design and ADVANCED WHITEBOARDING.

And in all seriousness, I see the value in careful planning of a project. You can code a master-class application, but if it doesn’t have a clear purpose that is in tune with the pulse of the people, it’s as meaningful as a blank page of HTML. However, I think had we as a team expressed to the mentors in the afternoon (kindly!) that we wanted to focus on the technical implementation of the project, the day would’ve felt more satisfying.

Time is the enemy of design, and although we did have a month for our project, our team would mostly be coordinating remotely from one another, and so I think our time would’ve been better spent thinking through the technical aspects and demands of the project so we could better organize each team member’s responsibilities once we parted ways.

But you live and learn! And besides, now I am an ADVANCED WHITEBOARD BUDDHA.

Little did I know that in the following week, my team would encounter ADVANCED WHITEBOARDING’s nefarious cousin, USER RESEARCH. But that and more to come for part 3!