Sr. Design Research Studio

Julia Ainbinder
Aug 30, 2017 · 45 min read

This is an on-going post with reflections on lectures, readings, and project process in my senior design studio at Carnegie Mellon. I will be updating it frequently with thoughts on topics taught surrounding transition design, service design, and social innovation.

Class 1: August 28, 2017

A diagram of CMU’s design curriculum.

After 2 years of working separately in our design concentrations (product, communication, and environments), our class is back together in one studio ready to learn and practice information that will be crucial in any of our disciplines.

Our concentrations are at the base of design; they are the most simple form and the one we are most comfortable with. Developing a skill-set to tackle wicked problems will be both challenging and exciting.

Lecture: Terry Irwin
1. “Look for jobs that align with your ethos”
It was refreshing to hear the head of the school say this. As a product designer trained in traditional industrial design, I have been struggling with defining what kind of work I want to go into. UX/UI seems to be the route most are taking, but I have yet to find a strong passion for it like I have for building physical products. I was fortunate enough to work as an ID intern this past summer, and I think I will continue down this path with a mix of user experience. I am also sure I will use the information learned in this class to understand the larger impact of my products or design solutions to major problems.

2. “I don’t know, but I can figure it out”
One of the lessons that has stuck with me for two years now was when Tom Merriman told our products class the story of somebody asking him to build an enormous moving hamburger to which he responded something along the lines of “sure, I do that everyday!” Of course he had never built something like it before, but he was telling us that with our skill-set, we should act with confidence, take on challenges, and know that we will be able to figure them out. Now, in a transition design lecture, Terry has told us the same thing, and I can see how our design thinking can be applied across a wide range of problems.

3. “Wait and observe before you intervene too much”

I believe this is the most important step in the transition design process. Some things to first understand about wicked problems:

  • They are never completely solved.
  • They are multi-causal, multi-scalar, and interconnected.
  • They have multiple stakeholders with conflicting agendas.

Just these few main points should make it clear that wicked problems can be catastrophic if handled incorrectly. A rash decision can affect such a large number of people. It would be highly irresponsible for a designer to tackle such a major problem without understanding the importance of waiting and observing how our design interventions play out before moving forward.

I am looking forward to building a toolkit in designing for problems on a much larger scale than I am familiar with.

Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, Donella Meadows

  • leverage point: a place in a complex system where a small shift in one thing can produce a big shift in everything; these are points of power
  • complex systems are “counterintuitive… we intuitively use them backwards” -Jay Forrester
  • just-in-time inventory: works best with shifting demands
  • self-organization: changing any tangible aspect (5–12 on the list, structures, rules, etc.)

This reading was eye-opening for understanding what sort of interventions are possible. I was surprised to learn how counter-intuitive these complex systems are, but understand that this is part of what makes them wicked problems. I am eager to begin coming up with interventions and mapping out how they will affect the bigger picture.

Class 2: August 30, 2017

We discussed 8 wicked problems of Pittsburgh, and spent some time playing a trivia game to get our minds into the space.

My group was assigned gentrification. Gentrification is the process of renovating low-income areas to attract a higher income population. This will be a very interesting and difficult problem to explore as it is so controversial.

On one hand, it has positive impacts- bringing in new businesses, beautifying parks and other areas, increasing money flow, opening new jobs, and more. But these positive impacts aren’t for everybody.

The core problem of gentrification is that its benefits aren’t shared equally by old and new residents. Old residents feel many of the negative impacts- increased prices, loss of old traditions, small business displacement, home relocation, and much more.

Gentrification affects many other topics and issues, including but not limited to: small business owners, crime, access to affordable housing, culture / tradition, access to affordable food, social relations, and diversity.

I am both excited and nervous to tackle such a major controversy in Pittsburgh. When so many people are involved and impacted both positively and negatively, it is quite impossible to find a solution that is perfect. We will have to make many difficult decisions to determine which aspects we can affect and which we will have to compromise on for an overall higher benefit.

Mapping Ojai’s Water Shortage: A Workshop, Terry Irwin

Reading through Terry’s workshop plan was quite inspiring. Running this workshop was an extremely important step for Ojai toward water sustainability, and with the complexity of transition design, I wouldn’t have even known where to begin.

I had two main take-aways from the presentation:

  1. How to run a workshop for such a deep issue with a large number of people.
    With such a diverse group of people, many of which I assume knew little to nothing about transition design or design prior to the workshop, I would be quite nervous to expect total cooperation and great results over 3 short days. Something I thought was key to running the workshop was taking a moment to discuss Mindset and Posture. With such an important issue, it is easy for people to try to act like experts, which often results in silencing other participants. Telling them how crucial it is to the process to be open-minded, willing to give and take knowledge, listen, etc. was key, I believe, to running a successful workshop. Saying something like this before any work is done puts people at ease and increases willingness to collaborate, in my opinion. This is something I will definitely use in future group settings or workshops I run.
  2. Backcasting as part of the transition design process.
    I am currently taking the course Futures, and thus far have only been exposed to forecasting. Through this presentation, I was able to clearly understand backcasting, which put me a bit more at ease about transition design. Until now, I was still struggling with how all of this research and speculation would be put into tangible practice. It was satisfying to unpack the backcasting process and see how you can use a vision of a desirable future to ‘backcast’ toward the present, looking for opportunities to intervene with projects, initiatives, and programs along the way in order to attain that future.

  • leverage point: a place in a complex system where a small shift in one thing can produce a big shift in everything; these are points of power
  • complex systems are “counterintuitive… we intuitively use them backwards” -Jay Forrester
  • just-in-time inventory: works best with shifting demands
  • self-organization: changing any tangible aspect (5–12 on the list, structures, rules, etc.)

This reading was eye-opening for understanding what sort of interventions are possible. I was surprised to learn how counter-intuitive these complex systems are, but understand that this is part of what makes them wicked problems. I am eager to begin coming up with interventions and mapping out how they will affect the bigger picture.

Class 3: September 6, 2017

First affinity diagram

Now that we’ve begun to delve into some research, my group and I spent some time before class to go over our initial findings and organize some of our thoughts. After writing some notes down (yellow stickies), we tried to organize them into categories. We realized a lot of the issues raised fell under more than one category (social, political, economic..), so we created a sort of venn diagram allowing notes to be a cross between 2+ categories.

In class, we went around to look at other groups’ findings. As I was going around, I had some trouble even recognizing which topic a group was researching if they didn’t have a clear title since so many of the problems are overlapping with other groups. When we all came together, we discussed how it was problematic to have vague sticky notes, since they are difficult to fully understand by outsiders. We split back up with the task to rewrite our notes with more specificity.

Second affinity diagram

Our group realized we had a lot of conflicting and disorganized thoughts on our first affinity diagram, so we decided to sort of restart and just list out all of the problems we have found with gentrification. One of the main problems is how controversial the topic is. For a certain group of people, gentrification can be very beneficial. On the other hand, it leaves a large number of people behind in difficult situations. To differentiate, we wrote accompanying benefits in a different color alongside all of the problems identified. This really helped our group grasp the two different perspectives of gentrification.

We then took all of the problems listed and conducted some deeper research on each issue. This was much less daunting of a task now since we had all of the basic problems at a glance on our second affinity diagram.

A couple of specific issues we have now defined include:

  • An increase in big-name superstores shuts down smaller grocers and leaves many residents in food deserts (Larimer, Garfield, Hazelwood)
  • Rich and powerful developers ignore resident protests, offering monetary incentives to continue with development (LG Realty Advisors- Penn Plaza)
  • Some people make too much to qualify for affordable housing displacement, but not enough to get by (East Liberty)
Discussing note-taking strategy with Stuart
Third affinity diagram

We have identified some gaps in our research- environmental and political issues. Though we aren’t sure we’ll find many environmental issues, we definitely know we need to research more on the political side.

Deep Ecology- A New Paradigm, Fritjof Capra

This was quite an interesting read on a new paradigm for understanding life at all levels and how a paradigm shift comes about. The reading was very much in line with what we are studying in Futures right now- mental maps and how to challenge them. Capra gave some insight as to first, why creating a new paradigm is so difficult, and second, how to do it.

Why creating a new paradigm is so difficult-
Wicked problems, as we know, are interconnected. “They cannot be understood in isolation,” Capra states. It is very challenging to see everything that is affected by one problem and everything that affects that problem. This involves a lot of research, speculation, affirmation, mapping, and experimentation with intervention.

How to create a new paradigm-
Question everything. Every single aspect of a past paradigm needs to be dissected and examined to determine if it can be part of the new paradigm, or if a shift needs to occur. Acknowledging how a problem’s system extends to considering what went into creating the system and how that creation affected the environment is called an “ecological view,” as Capra defines it, as opposed to a “holistic view.”

The information in this reading will become very important to our projects. The wicked problems we are researching have been researched by others and sometimes even had attempted interventions to fix them. We will need to deeply question everything that was already done to determine if it belongs in our plan or if it was just accepted in the past but should no longer be utilized.

Class 4: September 11, 2017

In class we reviewed everybody’s new problem maps, and discussed their uses and any additional strategies. The idea that all of our wicked problems were connected was pushed further as we saw sticky notes on one map discussing issues raised on a separate map. Something important I learned from listening to Terry as she went around looking at the maps was that these maps are unfinished.

It is easy for us, as busy students, to get caught up with writing lists and checking things off to make sure we get everything done that we need (I will admit, I am a major culprit of this). However, with a project like this one, we need to put that mentality aside because there is just so much to each of our topics that we could work on these maps for years. This mapping exercise was not just a weekend assignment; it must be ongoing and evolving as our understanding of the problems change.

On the question of use of these maps- we discussed how crucial they are in gaining a holistic view. Tracing problems up and down scale levels is how we can identify leverage points. This will allow us to arrive at the most productive smaller solution to a problem. If we were to only look at immediate causes of a problem, we would never get to the core and often miss the opportunity to create an effective long-term solution.

Finally, we began to tackle the question of stakeholders. Terry gave a great example from her workshop in Ojai that demonstrated just how difficult it can be to have so many stakeholders with completely different opinions. She introduced a method of triangulating these stakeholders, considering their conflicting points of view, and trying to find their points of alignment. How can we get all of these people happy?

Class 5: September 13, 2017

For class we prepared a collection of stakeholders pertaining to gentrification. Looking at how other groups approached the exercise brought about the discussion of scale- how far out should you go to say people are involved?

With more time spent with our topic, we will come up with more and more stakeholders. While this is true, it is important to be a little bit choosy and strive to mainly include those who are being impacted rather than those doing the impacting (consider who has a stake in the issue). I am still a bit confused on this. I thought it was helpful to take note of anyone involved in the issue in any way, because I felt like it opened up our minds to more and more issues. What if those doing the impacting are very important to the problem but aren’t very impacted themselves?

Another interesting note was that some groups, especially those whose issues pertain to the environment, even considered components in nature as stakeholders (such as soil).

Using our stakeholder notes to gain more understanding, we tried out a triading exercise where we chose 3 main stakeholders/groups with especially opposing opinions, mapped out their thoughts, then connected points where they aligned or conflicted. This helped us see that the situation doesn’t have to be filled with conflicts. There are plenty of values and ideas which these groups would agree on. If we had representatives from the 3 groups in one room, this would be an exercise we could do in person to help them realize they are not all that different.

Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block

This reading was highly optimistic and just overall sweet, for lack of a better word. Peter Block opens by saying this is a book

“for anyone who wants to be part of creating an organization, neighborhood, city, or country that works for all, and who has the faith and the energy to create such a place.”

It was refreshing to read about how someone truly wants our communities to be better and to increase the sense of belonging. He believes that if humans were the ones to get us to this low point, we should be capable of and responsible for getting us back up. He mentions the importance of “accountability”, which I found quite compelling. It is crucial to involve everyone in the process.

This is a huge task, to create a future that is different from what we have now. Block outlined some of the key challenges in the process:

  • To shift people’s mindsets from self-interest to caring for community
  • To look at problems as possibilities
  • To step outside of our independent and divided worlds
  • To promote unstructured interactions

Block states that we should not focus on individual transformation rather on the transformation of a community. I am confused by this rule since individuals make up a community, and everyone’s transformation within the community is important. Did I misunderstand what he meant?

Future Workshops: How to Create Desirable Futures, Robert Jungk

This reading was helpful in understanding how powerful future thinking can be. Robert Jungk introduces the concept of a future workshop by arguing

“it could help tap the biggest and most neglected resource of them all: people’s imaginations.”

I completely agree. Like we saw with Terry’s workshop in Ojai, it is simply crucial to get people connected to an issue together in a room discussing the topic. We are the designers, but facilitating a productive workshop with the stakeholders could bring the participants to design solutions on their own.

I was surprised and impressed to learn that Jungk was already running these workshops decades ago. I had the impression that futures thinking along with transition design were new practices, but Jungk realized early on how interconnected problems can be and how important it was for everyone’s voice to be heard in the planning of desirable futures.

Class 6: September 18, 2017

Class began with a rapid-fire presentation of stakeholder skits from every group. These skits called for partners to take on the personas of stakeholders related to our wicked problems, speak their opinions, then converse with the other stakeholders within their group.

Overall, the activity was exciting yet questionable. It was exciting because they were quick and to the point, often leading to laughter and energy from the audience. They were questionable, however, because we were asked to voice the opinions of people we had never met and whose situations we had mostly likely never been in. While I understand the benefits of the exercise, I think it was too early for us to do something like it. It was clear many groups (including my own) didn’t have a sufficient amount of research to back up their claims, often leading us resorting to voicing stereotypes. I know that there are time constraints with this project and that is why we can’t go as deep as we would hope. I think if this project is used in the future, it should be made clear on day one that our assignments will be exercises and not entirely accurate ways of moving through the transition design process. It would have been helpful to understand the scope of the project before beginning, as I think many students had the idea that we would be going out and speaking with stakeholders since we have done so for past projects.

Lecture: Stuart Candy

Stuart gave quite a compelling walk-through of future thinking. I found it especially interesting because I am currently taking the course Futures, and a lot of what he spoke to is exactly what we are learning about in class. What made it especially compelling were a few diagrams he showed to visualize the process and get a better grasp of futures thinking.

Until now, I feel like I have been understanding the concept of future thinking, but not understanding any tangible way to use it. Stuart gave two concrete ways to do so:

  1. Think about context.
    Always consider how something works within a larger and larger context. This context can expand very far out and in.
  2. Use outside-in thinking.
    It is common for people to use inside-out thinking when approaching a problem. This means they focus on the immediate concerns and design something to satisfy those needs. They only consider larger implications such as society changes if their design begins to fail. Outside-in thinking reverses the process and considers how things may change in the future before designing something so that it works alongside the predicted changes.

My main take-away from Stuart can be summarized by Jim Dator-

“ “The future” cannot be predicted because “the future” does not exist.”

The further out in time we go, the more future scenarios exist.

A representation of the 3 types of future scenarios we can consider.

In addition to the lecture, Stuart led us through a short writing activity. We were asked to think about the year 2047 and write haikus about our lives and communities.

My Community in 2047
The need to advance.
Data obsessed, stagnant souls.
Where do we go next?

It all became clear.
Letting go made us feel free.
Earth is coming back.

A Day in my Life in 2047
Pass averted eyes.
Struggle to converse with you.
Silenced emotions.

Inspired by change.
Feeling closer, connected.
How are you doing?

Caring for Future Generations, Jim Dator, July 2007

Reading some of Jim Dator’s thoughts on futures studies was quite insightful. He made it clear that futures studies didn’t mean predicting the future, since that is impossible to do. He also gave a few points of ways to be a good futurist.

One point in particular I found compelling was a quote by Steven Kim, an engineering professor at MIT.

“Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.”

I really resonated with this statement. Someone with fresh eyes can often easily point to an issue in a paradigm while those who have been using it (and may even be experts) would have a lot of trouble doing so. Coming into my internship this past summer, one of my first projects was to analyze the product’s out of box experience. It is clearly something they put effort into designing, but upon my first experience with it, I easily created a 20 page presentation filled with critiques. I felt like some of my points were obvious, but by my team’s reaction, I could tell they were hearing them for the first time.

I did have a bit of skepticism and questions regarding Edward de Bono’s work.

Dator introduced de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, or six different colored hats, each to mean a different way of thinking (creative, practical, intuitive, cautionary, neutral, and planning). I wasn’t very sold on the concept. The idea of these hats is to get people to be creative problem solvers. I would argue that restricting yourself to only one hat at a time would actually diminish your abilities to be creative. Being creative involves a lot of different kinds of thinking, yes, but I think these hats can change every other thought or even mid-sentence. Closing ourselves off to the other five ways of thinking could possibly result in a loss of a great idea.

Class 7: September 20, 2017

Lecture: Stuart Candy
As a continuation from last class, the lecture focused on future thinking and now, how to actually implement the concepts learned to generate alternative futures.

Before going over a concrete method, he went through several reasons why we cannot fall for monofuturism (the belief that since only one future will exist, that only one future can exist).

  1. Our own diverse responses.
    When asked to imagine a future for 2050, students in our class gave a wide range of responses. This already proves that there are plenty of possibilities.
  2. The parade of mistaken predictions.
    “I think there is a market for maybe five computer.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM 1943
    “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop — because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.” —
    TIME Magazine, 1966
  3. The nature and shape of change over time itself.
    Using chess as an analogy, we can see that after only four varied actions, there exist over 288 billion possible scenarios.

Where I’m At — Futures Thinking

Taking this studio course at the same as Futures following a semester of predicting future cities and autonomous technology has been… a lot (in a very good way). This past year has been so different from where I began my education here. At this point, I thought I would be buried underneath grey foam models. Instead, I went abroad and returned to a curriculum focused heavily on bigger picture issues, systems thinking, and now, transition design and futures thinking. While it was a bit of a shock spending basically a year without physically making anything substantial, I am already grateful for the kind of designer this new curriculum is turning me into.

As we are diving deeper into futures thinking, I am questioning why it wasn’t taught earlier. While I understand that teaching this course to freshmen probably wouldn’t yield the same results, I would argue that at least exposing us earlier on would have been quite beneficial. I am now skeptical of some of my own work from the last few years. From now on, when I approach any design project, my process will be different. I won’t jump right into defining the problem and iterating solutions. Instead, I am going to map out the bigger context in which a problem lies. I think I need to question whether or not the problem given is even the problem that needs to be solved. We spoke about this in class- that oftentimes we will not be given such large-scale problems in the workplace. However, it is still important to consider how an assignment can affect the larger scale. Even if I am not asked to do it, I think I can have a larger impact by seeing assignments in this way and questioning guidelines.

As I near graduation, I have been trying to figure out what kind of a designer I want to be. When I came in, all that I knew was graphic design. Sophomore year, I decided to concentrate on product design, which at the time still felt like industrial design as the curriculum was in transition. While I love making things, I don’t want to contribute to landfills, pollution, and other larger issues. For the last year, I have been questioning if I should continue to be a product designer, creating physical products. I felt like if I wanted to contribute to a sustainable future, I needed stop making things. But now, I am turning my thinking around. The last few weeks have brought a lot of inspiration. I want to make products that push others to follow sustainable practices. I want my products to stand the test of time, counteracting the concept of fast fashion; I want them to be compelling enough to be kept and used. I want to research and understand our society’s issue with sustainable practices — possibly as my focus next semester!

Four Futures for Hawaii 2050, Stuart Candy, Jim Dator, Jake Dunagan

This was very helpful to read in preparation for writing our own future for Pittsburgh. It was great to see the level of detail and the wide range of possibilities that were explored throughout these scenarios. I think the most important point to remember is that when presenting future scenarios, none should be labeled as “preferable” or “non-preferable”. Each scenario should be equally terrifying as it is seductive.

Class 8: September 25, 2017

For class, each group prepared their own future scenario based off of one of Dator’s four generic future scenarios (grow, collapse, discipline, and transform). My group wrote a collapse scenario for Pittsburgh.

To arrive at a cohesive story, we began with one point in time where we thought there may be a collapsed in any of the STEEP categories. From there, we extrapolated and predicted what would happen in the other categories. This process involved a lot of bouncing back and forth, throwing out crazy ideas and bringing it back to a somewhat realistic state.

It was interesting to hear everybody’s scenarios since it opened our eyes to even more possibilities. I think the key to being a good futurist is gaining inspiration from all perspectives and being able to continually think outside of the box.

The main point I retained from the lecture was- if it’s too logical, it’s likely just an extension of what we know today. Future scenarios need a combination of imaginative as well as logical ideas. Stuart described “safe” aspects in our future scenarios as-

“marinating in your own prejudices of the present”

This phrase really resonated with me. I have found myself getting a bit annoyed and stumped when my classmate’s stories included points like everybody’s jobs will be taken over by robots or the entire world will be autonomous. I am annoyed because these ideas are clear extrapolations of what we know today. Yes, autonomous technology is on the rise, but I don’t think it is very thoughtful to say that it will just completely take over leaving the entire world out of work. I think when something new comes along, a new job comes with it. It may be different than today, but I don’t think it will be obsolete. I am stumped because I am part of a group who has landed on similar ideas. Though I don’t agree, I am having difficulty coming up with a believable alternative. I hope the coming classes will teach me more methods to move away from extrapolating upon the present.

Moving on from trying out one of Dator’s four generic future scenarios, we were tasked with writing an ideal future. We approached this by having each team member write what they hope for the future, then combining our ideas into one cohesive story.

Class 9: September 27, 2017

The ideal future stories we wrote were largely written without a method to get there (on purpose). It was important for us to take time to consider what we wanted without having to solve every obstacle to get there first. This method brought us to our next exercise: backcasting.

We learned of the Three Horizons: Model of Change

  • Horizon 1: fading paradigms and technology
  • Horizon 2: transition paradigms and what rises along the way
  • Horizon 3: pockets of the future found in the present

We used this model to beginning places ideas from our ideal future and realizing what might need to happen in order to get to certain futures. There is a lot of back and forth with backcasting as well.

We first spent a bit of time discussing and defining our main futures points on the topic of gentrification in Pittsburgh.

We used our three horizons to create an entire timeline from now until 2050 detailing all of the major events and ideological shifts that would lead us to our ideal future.

We used STEEP to organize our thoughts across the years. Blue: detailed events / Pink: ideological shifts / Orange: ideas for future artifacts to illustrate our concepts.

I really enjoyed this method of futures thinking because I finally felt like our ideas were coming to life in a logical way. Though we began with some ridiculous thoughts, backcasting allowed for us to reel it in and come up with what might really need to happen for this ideal future to exist.

Class 10: October 2, 2017

For class, we finished up our timeline with further details along with possible artifacts of the future to help illustrate our ideas.

We split off into some individual work for the artifacts, and my focus was how housing developments in Pittsburgh will shift from displacing current residents in order to bring in wealthier ones to accommodating both old and new residents. I created two artifacts along this thought.

We spent a lot of class time discussing which timelines were most successful and why. This class is doing a great job of preparing us for future work because we are being critical not only on the work itself, but how we present even the smallest assignments. It is making me completely relearn what a sticky-note is used for. In the past, sticky notes have been great for jotting down half-thoughts to get ideas rolling and out in front of me. Now, we are learning that it is very important for a sticky-note to stand alone; it should not need me there to explain it. This is really helpful to learn because I’ve always wondered what could possibly interest others about my sticky-noting if there was no way for them to understand my unformed thoughts.

Lecture: Terry Irwin
Terry spent some time going over lifestyles, human needs, and synergistic solutions. This was a very useful lecture because it will help me gain a deeper, more genuine understanding of stakeholders and how to create a solution that can help solve multiple issues at once.

We covered Max Neef’s Universal Needs, which I find to be much more powerful than Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Neef’s list of needs claims to be universal in that each need will exist in every human no matter which generation, but each need will require a satisfier that can be specific to a person’s age, culture, etc. I think these needs are great to consider, especially now that we are to consider stakeholders across present and future generations.

Synergistic solutions are ones that can be satisfiers for multiple needs. These are the kind of interventions we will strive to achieve for our wicked problems.

It was also interesting to note the different levels of scale lifestyles can function. Each level up brings more yet weaker connections (ie: connections amongst democrats in America). Each level down brings fewer yet stronger connections (ie: connections amongst immediate family members).

For homework we were tasked with analyzing two products in terms of their abilities to fulfill or inhibit human needs. I looked at two items in my home- my Urbanears and my basil plant.

Class 11: October 4, 2017

After reviewing our product analyses, we again had a discussion on communication of work. Some papers were more easily readable and understandable due to a variety of factors (font, use of color, images, organization, and more). I plan to revise my two pages to make them more graspable by an outside viewer.

Afterward, it was time to outline the needs of our stakeholders (of gentrification) in order to beginning brainstorming interventions based off needs inhibited. We began by listing out all of the needs and potential satisfiers for those being displaced from gentrifying areas. We then decided we wanted to include those moving into gentrifying areas because they are pretty equally important to the issue. We spent a lot of time discussing possible satisfiers for all of our stakeholder’s needs, and deciding whether they were being fulfilled, partially fulfilled, or inhibited.

This step was a perfect start to working on synergistic solutions. Our next step was to identify several key entry points for intervention. We went through and connected similar points across different needs to create entry points.

We used these entry points to propose several synergistic interventions.

We really tried to work on our visual and written communication for this step in the process. We noticed that our previous work had been lacking some clarity (use of color, effective images, a key, consistent handwriting).

Service Design 101, Lauren C. Ruiz

  • Services are intangible economic goods that can be purchased multiple times (ex: Zipcar, hair salons, Airbnb)
  • Value exchanges occur through touchpoints (anytime service users engage with the service)
  • Service users + service employees = a service
  • Good services consider and plan for unexpected unpleasantries during their experience
  • Service customers- purchase the service
    Service users- directly use the service
    Front-stage service employees- deliver the service to the user
    Back-stage service employees- make the service possible in the background
    Partner service employees- partners involved in delivering the service
  • Types of touchpoints- people, place, props, partners, and processes

Class 12: October 9, 2017

Molly Steenson joined us for a service design workshop today. She did a brief overview of service design which was covered in the reading the night before- going over what a service is, front stage/back stage, touch points, and service blueprints.

We then worked in our teams to design a service to share music over the next hour and a half.

Since we were limited on time, we moved pretty quickly through the process. We did a 5–10 minute brainstorm and organized the ideas into clusters. We decided we wanted our idea to focus on a social 1:1 interaction.

Our idea was to have an app that would partner with Spotify and discover a matching song between two people who just met. The app would play the song and enforce people to listen to music together. The two could then listen to more songs together when they are apart.

We created a very quick service flow with users and actions. If we were designing a full service and had more time, this would of course go in more depth. This was a great exercise for transitioning in service design for the next few weeks.

Class 13: October 11, 2017

Since we had the service design workshop last class, we never had a chance to present our intervention concepts. We spent the majority of class presenting and listening to other groups’ ideas. As I listened, I jotted down some of the ideas that I thought may be able help us with gentrification.

After a couple of presentation, I began to see a lot of repetition with ideas that already exist today, such as community gardens. We had a discussion about this afterward, but I didn’t really agree with the consensus (that it was great to utilize services that already exist). While I agree that it is not necessary to come up with something completely new, I don’t think it is effective to take something that doesn’t really work today, not change it at all, and call it an intervention for a better future. This kind of thinking completely goes against everything we have building up with about our ideal future. A community garden is just “marinating in your own prejudices of the present”.

I don’t think community gardens in impoverished areas are very effective. Gardening takes a lot of time, knowledge, and care. I found it problematic listening to my classmates present an idea they wouldn’t participate in themselves. It doesn’t seem productive or respectful to impose such an idea upon lower-income people. To me, it really feels like they’re saying “let the poor people grow their own food while I keep buying mine at Trader Joe’s”.

In place of a community garden, for example, I would propose a program that would teach people how to grow food in their own home (such as using vegetable cutoffs to regrow a vegetable). This seems much more realistic in my opinion. Especially in Pittsburgh where it is impossible to garden for a good 1/3 or more of the year. How would a community garden help people get through the winter?

I found the ideas that included the entire population much more effective. For example, the water group proposed to create underground tunnels that would allow people to physically immerse themselves in Pittsburgh’s water and see the contamination first-hand. In addition, these tunnels would provide an extra space for transportation.

Cases for Use
This was a useful document that exposed me to a few transition design practitioners and their work.

  • Calvin Brook: working on a movement to introduce art, architecture, and monuments to support national reconciliation of cultures that were changed by Western settlers in Canada.
  • Jennie Winhaul + Shaun Smith: Economic Inequality in Canada (ALT/NOW Program)
  • Shaun Paul: Indigenous Rights and Economic Well-being in Mexico
  • Zaid Hassan: International Global Scale Social Labor (work in India, Chicago, and more)
  • Joy Anderson: Reinvent Finance to Drive Social Innovation, regarding issues such as gender and church as an economic being

I’m sure this is an on-going list that I will reference whenever I need real-world examples of transition design implementation. I will definitely look further into Calvin Brook’s work since it could be very useful in our work on gentrification in Pittsburgh.

Leap Dialogues: Career Pathways in Design for Social Innovation

I enjoyed reading this dialogue between Tommy Lynn and Suzi Sosa (two designers at Verb, a company that connects global brands to thousands of social entrepreneurs around the world focused on a key issue, such as water, health or education). They rose some powerful and reassuring points on moving into working as a transition designer.

  • There was a discussion on whether designers are powerful because they can make things beautiful or because they can solve problems in new ways- the answer is they are even more powerful because they can combine the two skills.
  • Successful social enterprises are investing in designers at early stages- aka companies are realizing the need and benefit of incorporating design thinking into their entire process (not just creating of the final product).
  • Working as a designer inside of a large tech company can seem daunting and difficult to create impact, but Tommy argues being inside of a big company gives him the opportunity to have that impact, though he needs to challenge himself to do it. Meaning, regularly assigned work won’t cut it, you need to push yourself to do more.

Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise, Stuart Candy
Stuart touches upon a number of important implication involved with social enterprise in his forward to Matthew Manos’ book.

  • Businesses, far more often than not, seek to maximize certain outcomes at the expense of others. This is a classic issue, and I’m not sure if the paradigm will ever completely shift.
  • “Other impacts are someone else’s problem”- going along with the point above, I think that if businesses decide that other impacts are also their problem, this may begin a shift.
  • Social entrepreneurs work for the greater good of society rather than for personal or capital gain. This is a heart-warming statement, and I hope more people will work this way in the future.
  • There is a crucial part missing from social enterprise today: foresight. I can see why Stuart has been pushing so many different methods of visualizing the future and considering how the present day could impact the world down the line. Being visionary is key to this process.

Class 14: October 16, 2017

For class, we split our team into two groups of 3 and tackled designing a service as an intervention for gentrification. We decided to rethink some of our proposed interventions and possibly use ways of thinking presented by other groups to come up with a new service.

We landed on a service that would encourage interaction between new/large companies in gentrifying areas with the youth of the community because this is often a point of tension-- companies like Google sort of just spring up in Pittsburgh, contribute to gentrification, and don’t connect with the existing community. We wanted to change this.

Lecture: Cheryl Dahle
Cheryl Dahle joined us for class to talk about social innovation and her work on the future of fish at Flip Labs.

Social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem for a society as a whole rather than private individuals. This is a similar concept to inclusive design- designing for the extremes will also improve the lives of those living in between the extremes.

A few examples of social innovation are fair trade, charter schools, and micro-financing. Unfortunately, these examples show that when social innovation is scaled up, it often fails. The goal of micro-financing was to allow lower-income citizens to take out small loans to prove they are able to pay them back. This concept worked well until it was scaled up and the lowest of the lower-income citizens were again restricted from taking out loans. This is an issue we will have to work with when designing for social innovation.

After a briefing on fishing in Indonesia, we then worked in our groups coming up with possible social innovations at different levels of impact. We used a DSI matrix to plot the types of solutions we were envisioning.

Class 15: October 18, 2017

Similar to the DSI matrices, we looked at this chart with samples of interventions at different levels of scale (in terms of impact and number of people involved).

We began to plot our intervention ideas as well as come up with new ones.

*work in progress*

I enjoy using this model because it really helps me see how I am working. In the past, most of my work would probably fall in the lower left quadrant, so it is really exciting to see that my capabilities as a designer have stretched to higher levels.

Class 16: October 18, 2017

We began class with a discussion on how this studio is going, and how it is different than what we are used to. We aren’t solely creating solutions as we have in the past, we are designing interventions as a means of asking questions. It seems like a lot of the class has been feeling uncomfortable with this change. Personally, I’m very grateful for such a semester. I don’t think I would be taught something like this anywhere else. Learning from people so well-versed on the topic like Stuart and Terry has been a privilege. Sure, it is a bit worrisome that we haven’t “created” anything beautiful yet, but I could tell within a couple of weeks that that’s not what this semester is about. We already know how to make stuff. We will have the rest of our lives to practice those skills and better them. But transition design isn’t something that is available everywhere. I am happy to be learning it now because it has been helping me shape my design ethos.

We spent the rest of class finding connections between our intervention ideas and other groups’. I like that we were limited to presenting only 6 ideas, it helped the task feel more manageable. Going around looking at other people’s posters, I noted some people to speak with later.

Chat with Raphael:
I have become pretty interested in food sustainability this semester, so I headed over to the Food group’s table. One of their sticky notes I found compelling was an idea to teach people how to grow their own food. I think this solution can have more of an impact than simply saying “let’s do a community garden” (see my thoughts on community gardens as a solution under Class 13). Raph and I discussed why community gardens aren’t innovative, and what other solutions there may be. This past weekend I visited Chatham University’s sustainability campus where they have an aquaponics growing system. I was surprised the food group hadn’t proposed aquaponics as an intervention, so I explained the concept to Raph.

  • Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system
  • Water is recycled through the system to help the fish survive then fertilize the plants
  • Since water is recycled, this system can be used to grow food in areas experiencing drought
  • Food grows twice as fast
  • This system can be implemented indoors, therefore 1) Pittsburgh’s poor weather conditions for a majority of the year wouldn’t be a factor and 2) there are fewer pests to deal with
  • It is a lovely sustainable system that grows fish and plants without wasting water or using harmful fertilizers!

Chat with Deborah:
I then moved onto the Education group, since teaching people how to grow their own food could be closely related. They had a sticky note talking about converting a portion of libraries into spaces for hands-on creating. This gave me the idea of implementing aquaponics into schools. This would have a number of benefits.

  • Students would learn how to grow their own food at a young age
  • A new class learning about the science behind aquaponics as well as helping maintain the school’s system could be added to the curriculum
  • Students could grow their own food and take it to eat for lunch or to bring home weekly
  • Housing the system in a school would help ensure its survival more than a community garden that simply invites anyone to come and contribute when they can

Deborah was more interested in education on mental health, but we had a nice chat bouncing around ideas nonetheless.

Chat with Adella:

Adella is a part of the Housing group, which is of course quite closely related to Gentrification. However, through our conversation, I realized our group hasn’t really been focusing on housing solutions. Through all of our research in the last few weeks, we gravitated more toward interventions that would get at the core of gentrification, and eliminate the term in the future. These interventions were mostly through social or educational lenses rather than housing. Their group had a sticky note aimed at redesigning Section 8’s website to help people find housing easier after they have been displaced. While this could be helpful in the immediate moment, I didn’t feel like this is the type of intervention we are looking for through transition design. Redesigning a service that provides housing to displaced residents basically accepts the idea that people will continue to get displaced and we can’t do much about it — I don’t think so. I think there are plenty of opportunities for intervening earlier into the system to help shift this Pittsburgh paradigm of tech companies and hipster restaurants attracting wealthier residents and pushing out long-time residents.

Class 17: October 25, 2017

We spent some extra time in class going around and discussing topics with each other. I already knew I most likely wanted to work with Raph on a food and education related project, but I walked around speaking to other topics just in case I found a new interest. In the end, I made a group with Raph, Kevin, Jeong Min and Emily. We were all very excited about our topic and eager to begin working the next day since we only have a month left before the senior show!

Team: Julia, Jeong Min, Raph, Kevin, Emily

Julia (Gentrification): physical artifacts, interviews, project organization
Jeong Min (Air Quality): physical artifacts
Raph (Food): illustrations, animation, interview
Kevin (Housing): visual design, animation
Emily (Food): service, system thinkings, copywriter, curation, interview

Initial team vision: Educating children on sustainable living habits to achieve long-term change by implementing aquaponics growing systems into schools.

Meeting goals:

  • Identify problems that lead to interventions
  • List research questions: What do you want to learn? What impact do you want to make?
  • Define the design opportunity. What might you achieve? What’s the shift in power?
  • Start telling stories.


  • Sustainable living isn’t incorporated in school curriculums
  • Blurred lines between what constitutes foods in different food groups
  • High rate of people in Pittsburgh live in food deserts (50%?)
  • Living outside the city has a larger radius for calculating food deserts (versus Downtown)
  • Transportation getting cut off
  • “Grocery store” = convenience store selling Pop Tarts (unhealthy lifestyle)
  • People aren’t well educated on sustainability

Reframing our vision: To shift Pittsburgh public elementary school curriculums to incorporate more sustainable practices and foster citizens that will positively influence the future of the city.

  • Shift the mindset, beginning with kids, that sustainable living is
    the norm
  • Elementary school students — each grade takes on different roles, becoming more and more sustainability conscious each year (think about what makes sense for each grade level)
  • Create a lesson plan—focus on certain classes to implement sustainable practices (science, art, history, after-school)
  • Use future visions to create a timeline and backcast how we get there

Research questions & topics to look into:

  • What’s the value in our program?
  • Where does funding come from?
  • How do things like higher education get funded? (Be very specific, look into policy)
  • National Science Foundation—possible source for funds
  • How do you implement this new system/curriculum?
  • Who’s in charge of the curriculum?
  • What is the current curriculum?
  • How much food does aquaponics make?
  • What types of sustainable habits do we want to teach? What activities?
  • Do we want to look into extracurriculars + after school programs versus changing a current subject?
  • What are the parameters for holding workshops with teachers?
  • Do kids care? How do we make them care?
  • How do we make parents care?
  • Underprivileged children generally need after school care because of conflicts with working parents. Can we use an after-school program as a leverage point?
  • How can we building good habits? (picking up trash, sorting trash, being conscious of materials used when eating or doing anything, plastic vs paper, etc.)


  • A written proposal for a new lesson plan to elementary schools
  • A backstage blueprint for how a new curriculum will be implemented and what will be its impact
  • A lesson plan with sustainable activities / workshops
  • A timeline outlining each grade level’s sustainability curriculum including strong visuals and physical artifacts
  • Back-up plan: sustainability exhibit for kids at CMOA

To do:

  1. Talk to schools and people in charge of curriculums (learn how curriculums work and how changes are implemented)—try to talk with people in public schools of Pittsburgh but can also talk with those who worked on School of Design’s curriculum change
  2. Research sustainable habits and activities
  3. Visit Chatham’s Eden Hall Sustainability Campus to learn more about sustainable practices (aquaponics, etc.)
  4. Visit Phipps aquaponics system
  5. Create a timeline for 2050
  6. Outline the new curriculum
  7. Write a proposal to implement the new curriculum
  8. Create visual and physical artifacts to make our timeline compelling
  9. Take great process photos along the way and put in process folder


Oct 26 — Nov 3

  • first group meeting Oct. 26
  • do research on funding and sustainable practices
  • visit Chatham’s campus on Oct. 30 (Julia arrange)
  • reach out to those in charge of school curriculums (Emily)
  • visit Phipps if more research is necessary
  • compile all of our research and begin thinking about a curriculum outline

Nov 4 — Nov 10

  • timeline
  • backstage blueprint
  • begin writing a proposal
  • begin thinking about visual and physical elements

Nov 11— Nov 17

  • MAKE — work on visuals, clean version of timeline, final copy for proposal, physical artifacts for curriculum
  • do supplementary research where necessary

Nov 18— Nov 24 (Thanksgiving break begins Nov 22)

  • continue making + researching

Nov 27 — Dec 1 (Design show install on Dec. 1)

  • tie everything together and prepare all final presentation deliverables

Class 18: October 30, 2017

Time to get deep into the work— our group spent the class further defining our intent for this project and how we are going to get there.

We had a great talk with Stuart that helped us realize that while our project was formed through futures thinking, our deliverables were highly focused on our present day intervention— this would negate a lot of the work we have done to get here. We thought about our deliverables a bit more and are going to try to create some sort of an immersive experience for our imagined ideal future in addition to our curriculum proposal and timeline.

For homework, our group jumped right into formulating our preferred future. We each contributed our hopes for this future through a STEEP lens, then placed them on a timeline, and back-casted to the present.

Class 19: November 1, 2017

In class, we organized our plan for the project a bit more and continued to work. We worked through identifying stakeholders and their needs through Max Neef’s Needs. This will help us move forward in our intervention since we can then design for unsatisfied needs.

We met again both Thursday and Friday to begin backcasting from our ideal future, beginning with a 3 Horizons diagram.

Future Savvy, Adam Gordon

I read an excerpt from this book over the weekend for my Futures class, and found it very compelling and helpful for my current work in studio. Gordon outlines 10 facets through which to critique future scenarios. It made me think a lot about how we are presenting our ideal future, and if it passes Gordon’s critiques.

  1. Purpose
    What is the interest behind creating the forecast?
    What effects or concerns is the author trying to arouse?
    Is it future-aligning (in order to adapt early on) or future-influencing (in order to influence the future)?
    Who is the audience? How widely is it publicized?
  2. Specify
    Is it predictive (one set future, likely to be wrong) or speculative (many possibilities, no clear prediction)?
    What is the level of certainty?
  3. Information Quality
    How extensive/good is the base data?
    Is there data/research provided?
    Is it real data or a projection?
  4. Interpretation and Bias
    Are there natural or intentional biases?
    Does the author address their own biases?
    What is their reputation?
    Do they have anything to lose by being wrong?
    Is it sponsored or done in self-interest?
    Bad signs- selective in choice of facts, omission of opposing data, emotional words
  5. Methods and Models
    How does it take us from the present to the future?
    Does it state primary methods including limitations and biases?
    Bad signs- say that the methods are too complex or proprietary to share
  6. Quantitative Limits
    Are quantitative methods appropriate?
    Is a machine doing the thinking?
  7. Managing Complexity
    Does the forecast oversimplify the world?
    Does it anticipate how things could speed up in the future?
    Does it account for triggers/tipping points?
  8. Assumptions and Paradigms Paralysis
    Is there adequate horizon scanning?
    Are assumptions states?
    Is the author willing to entertain alternate assumptions?
  9. Zeitgeist and Groupthink
    Zeitgeist: the defining spirit/mood of a particular period in history.
    Bad signs-
    assume current needs, wants, and concerns will remain the same in the future
    Good signs- anticipate shifts
    Is the forecast jumping on the bandwagon?
  10. Drivers and Blockers
    Whether or not the future occurs depends on drivers and blockers— are they identified?
    Does the future challenge social, cultural, and/or moral norms?
    Is it in love with tech?

I want my group to keep these critiques and questions in mind as we move forward with our definition of the future of Pittsburgh and how we get there.

Class 20: November 6, 2017

Our group had a solid plan for completing our project by the end of the semester, but after speaking with Stacie, we realized our mindset was a bit off. What we were working on was more of a solution rather than an intervention. We were having trouble distinguishing between the two because our education over the last three years has been focused on the former.

We decided to take a step back and discuss our goals and questions at a higher level. Until now, we thought we were going to propose an intervention to current Pittsburgh elementary school curriculums to infuse learning with more sustainable practices. Doing this sort of project well in only 4 short weeks is not feasible. After taking a step back, we determined that the main question we wanted to answer was why don’t people care? Why, if there are so many videos, blogs, and resources available, hasn’t everybody adjusted their habits to be more sustainable? What does resonate with people? What would compel people to change their habits?

We will now be gathering more research from people to understand their reactions to different behavior change methods by designing intervention artifacts.

Class 21: November 8, 2017

“Constraints as a design material”

An important note to keep in mind by Stuart. We have 4 weeks, small groups, college students and professors accessible, etc. These are all constraints we need to work with to design our interventions.

Today, our group worked through a number of concepts we each brainstormed individually. We looked at a wide range of possible artifacts to gain more research on what resonates with people— video, AR/VR, installation, posters, life hack card deck, illustrations, just to name a few.

We decided to move forward with a card deck and installation experience. We wanted to work across two different mediums to gain more feedback from people on the type of intervention that resonates with them.

Class 22: November 13, 2017

Today we presented our works in progress to other groups looking for feedback. We got some really insightful comments that would inform our next steps.

Main changes from today’s feedback:

  • Focus on the card deck, toss out the installation (do one really well instead of two kind of well)
  • Pull the purpose of the installation into the cards— to inform/shock people about the reality our unsustainable practices, put these facts/futures/projections into another card (like a joker card)
  • Make the cards CMU specific, to narrow in on our audience
  • Make sure to stay away from language that shames people
  • Consider other social media platforms (Facebook groups are annoying)— maybe Snapchat or Instagram stories

Class 23: November 15, 2017

Lots of work done today— moving forward with our card deck, everybody has a role they are focusing on.

Julia: card content and copy
Jeong Min: physical card box design
Emily: process work, visual style of cards
Raph: process work, visual style of cards
Kevin: digital experience, current campus practices

Class 24: November 20, 2017

We showed some of our progress to Stuart before heading out for Thanksgiving break.

Class 25: November 27, 2017

With the end of the semester nearing, our group sat down to write a clear plan for finishing up on time. I was still home on this day, but we communicated remotely.

Class 26–27: November 29 + December 4, 2017

Making making making! Everyone split into their roles and worked on specific portions of the final deliverables.

Julia: final content and copy for hack and fact cards, outline and content for context booklet, on-boarding pamphlet with Jeong Min, 11x17 of project overview, take studio photos of final with Emily
Emily: writing content onto cards, review content for 11x17, compile context booklet, print all work with Kevin, take studio photos of final
Kevin: Snapchat experience user flow and video, print all work
Raphael: drawings for all cards, help with content for Snapchat, cut out all work (cards, pamphlet, stickers)
Jeong Min: build box to hold cards, on-boarding drawings

Class 28: December 6, 2017

Our final show! We set up our work science fair style and spoke with visitors about what we’ve been doing this semester. This was a great time to hear feedback from people who haven’t seen any of the work yet.

A few Seeds planted by visitors of the show!

Seeing other groups’ final work in the show was very interesting. I was particularly inspired by the group that focused on Section 8. They took me through a series of interactive questions where I had to take on the role of a landlord and decide who would live in my building based on the applications shown. One of the applicants had a Section 8 (a form informing the landlord that this resident qualifies for affordable housing and the government will aid in paying a consistent monthly stipend) but the current form is very difficult to read, so it was easy to get confused. I thought it related to some sort of a crime, so I was quick to write him off. Later, they replaced the current form with a new form they designed. It was clean, fresh, and inviting to read. I quickly learned this man would be quite the opposite of a burden in my building. The experience they created was incredibly moving, and I think they hit “designing for feedback” spot on. I will definitely be thinking about how I can bring this kind of emotional connection into my own work.

After a semester of working on something so different from years past, I can definitely say I’ve learned a great deal — from new research methods to designing interventions as modes for gathering feedback, I am confident I will use these skills in the future, and I’m excited to apply them to my work next semester!

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