Design Research Studio

Class Reflections / Content


Studio: overview; systems lecture

As a senior, one thought that floats around from the front to the back of my mind is what it means to design in industry. Since freshman year, and more acutely in junior year, I’ve been consumed with learning more skills and honing my existing ones to expand the kinds of work I do and to improve the quality of thinking and craft in each project. My goal was to then present these to interviewers or peers to show how I solve problems and what my design process is like.

At first it was hard to see how this fit in with Terry’s lecture about transition design and systems. Systems were too big, and my projects were small-scale. Even my inter-disciplinary HCI projects failed to consider consequences and systematic relationships much.

However, I realized that for each of my projects, I could have made a narrative that much more compelling if I had included a step of foresight. I can (vaguely) see how they all have those implications in a multi-level system. For example, we did a project exploring conversational UI because it is an emergent technology. During this project I thought about the benefits of CUI as opposed to traditional GUI’s and screens, but it would have been more meaningful if I had put more consideration into its trajectory, stemming from the mundane tasks of reading off our calendars or turning on our lights.

Meadows discusses 12 leverage points with varying degrees of influence on change. To see how these leverage points impact human behavior and mindsets at different levels, how some are difficult to change, and how changes are resisted or embraced(?), was valuable to gaining more understanding about what kind of thinking we’re aiming to achieve this semester.


Studio: Pgh game; introduce project themes

Topic: Access to affordable housing

Teammates: Adella, Kevin, Noah, Ty, Hae Wan


Irwin Ojai Reading

This reading helped me realize how deeply connected any one thing is to the things around it: the present to the past and future, an immediate area to its neighbors on all sides.

The concept of time plays a larger role in design than I had previously thought. On the one hand, Transition Design involves looking into the future, envisioning desirable futures that should inform present projects. There’s also the concept of “continually ‘solutioning,’” as opposed to waiting for a problem to arise before working to find a solution. This requires forecasting and predicting problems that will arise as a result of our current trajectories, as much as we might not want to think about things that aren’t even a problem yet.

Terry has been talking about systems embedded in systems, and I felt a budding realization of what this means when I read about the collaboration between Ojai and Ventura for the water shortage problem. Ojai can’t make decisions in isolation, because their actions will impact its neighbor Ventura, so they are working together. Ventura, in turn, has its own neighbors that it will affect, and so are they working with those neighbors on the other side? How far do the impacts of Ojai’s actions reach, and where is far away enough to stop considering?

Access to Affordable Housing: Research

Team research folder found here.

As I researched the threads connecting affordable housing to other movements in the city — such as the rise and expansion of big industries, creation of jobs, and increase in population related to the universities — Terry’s lecture and reading have repeatedly reemerged in my thoughts. It is difficult to envision an all-inclusive solution.

Just one basic relationship that illustrates this is between large companies like Whole Foods and Google, and homeowners who have lived where they were for many years. They don’t just push people out of their homes, they are also increase the housing prices in the area and change its demographic, community and culture. Same goes for large companies expanding and shutting down small local business. On the surface it seems like a big-guy vs. little-guy struggle. We may adamantly call for compromise but to the big guy, compromising is like losing. A running theme in these situations seems to be that folks on the losing end feel they don’t have much say in the matter. I am looking forward to seeing what our team will discover when we come together with our research.


We wrote down some inital questions we had, to help us scope our topic.

Our questions on digital post-its on MURAL.


Studio: review; build repository; lateral thinking

Today, we met as a class and discussed our collective methods and approach to research. Most if not all groups had grouped their post-it notes under categories, whether they used those as starting points or found them as they emerged from scattered notes.

Other major considerations included stakeholders (and how we relate to them), timelines to understand how historical events got us where we are, and different ways to conceptualize our research like sketching.

Mapping out our problem space

As a team we took another look at the questions and research we’d previously done and started to piece them together. We began to see threads connecting our topic to other topics in the studio, as well as imbalances in the system (between incomers/people leaving, housing price increases and drops, etc.)

Capra Reading

Capra introduces some ideas that I found very helpful and like a lot. He draws a comparison for shifts in paradigms to changes in the field of physics; the fact that physics was seen as the root of all other sciences illustrates how deep the change is. If scientists are reevaluating their fundamental views of reality, it seems more plausible for humanity to reevaluate our views on other things.

One quote I really liked:

Care flows naturally if the “self” is widened and deepened so that protection of free Nature is felt and conceived as protection of ourselves. Just as we need no morals to make us breathe…[so] if your “self” in the wide sense embraces another being, you need no moral exhortation to show care…You care for yourself without feeling any moral pressure to do it. …If reality is like it is experienced by the ecological self, our behavior naturally and beautifully follows norms of strict environmental ethics. — Arne Naess

It speaks to expanding our sense of “self” — when we think of ourselves as part of the larger whole, taking care of the environment and of others becomes like taking care of ourselves.

As Capra talks about the old outdated paradigm, I’m becoming increasingly aware of systems thinking as its own paradigm. Words like “dissociated” and “isolated” have come to carry a negative connotation. Integration and interconnectedness are coming to be seen as the optimal way to view things. On the one hand, we’re expanding our minds beyond ourselves and growing awareness for the consequences of our actions. I suppose it fits with the trajectory of technology that crosses geographic divides, closes distances faster and makes information known seemingly everywhere at once. On the other hand, I question how these ideas trickle down into our craft, and how we can cause our audience to reflect on these things.

Other takeaways:

  • We have a crisis of perception: old worldviews are inadequate for dealing with our “overpopulated, globally interconnected world”
  • paradigms are shared by the community and used by it to define legitimate problems and solutions
  • “ecological view” — recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that we are all embedded in the cyclical process of nature. sees not just parts of a whole, but also the natural and social environment in which the whole is embedded.
  • social ecology — cultural characteristics and patterns of social organization that bring about the current ecological crisis
  • ecofeminism — studies dynamics of social domination within the context of patriarchy. says the patriarchal domination of women by men is prototypical of all domination and exploitation of various forms, including nature.
  • The imbalance between self-assertive and integrative thinking explains the difficulty of shifting to a more balanced value system. There are people who are rewarded in this current system of linear hierarchy that emphasizes expansion, competition and domination.


Weekend: meeting for more research

Delegation happened. I’m focusing my research on infrastructure and technology issues.

As I researched deeper within this more narrow scope of our topic, I came to see more significant relationships between affordable housing and trends in technology, policy, sustainability, economics, and all the other wicked topics.

There are technological advances in housing like computer-aided construction and cheaper, sustainable materials. The less physical issues seem farther removed, such as technologies relating to autonomous vehicles. This doesn’t seem to have anything to do with housing, but in fact relates to the concept of personal ownership getting replaced with on-demand services in our marketplaces. In an on-demand economy, what does a house even mean?


Studio: worldview lecture; stakeholders

A person or society’s paradigm is the most powerful leverage point (Meadows), and the lens through which each views the world. Something I took away from Terry’s lecture is that we only see what fits into our scope of reality — we can’t perceive what we can’t conceive. So I hope to learn to pull back and ask “What am I not seeing?”

As we mapped out our problem of affordable housing, mostly our research seemed disconnected. Maybe it’s because of the way we split up the research, so each member researched one STEEP factor.

Mapping the problem with STEEP categories:

Looking at this research, I attempted to synthesize our findings here:


Historically, Pittsburgh has prioritized the protection of home values, sidelining stable housing needs. Authorities actually push people out of their homes for businesses and reconstruction. Our topic relates closely to the issue of gentrification, which recently climaxed as the last residents of East Liberty’s Penn Plaza were evicted to make way for a Whole Foods. These issues are also racially charged, as most of these low income residents are African American​, and landowners have been known to discriminate. Pittsburgh’s shifting focus economic focus is also alienating many of its long-time residents.

Technology & Infrastructure

Many affordable housing plans today revolve around building in bulk, as construction technology has improved. Pittsburgh has long since retired its steel industry, and today finds itself a growing tech hub as giants like Google and Uber move in. Elsewhere, technological advances have seen more eco-friendly and sustainable homes built. Technological trends seem to be pointing to a sharing economy thanks to companies like Uber and AirBnB, which might be interesting for a shift in the idea of home ownership.


Pittsburgh is seeing population growth and a rise in its average income level. This seemingly good news is actually a driving factor in the affordable housing problem. Increasingly, young urban professionals are migrating in for the top-notch universities, research, and the rise in tech jobs. As these higher-income folks move in, not only is there less housing space but prices are also driven up. The population growth in fact covers up the increasing number of low income residents who are leaving the city. Another result of this is a larger wage gap and shrinking middle class.


Constant construction and demolition​ of buildings is destroying natural habitats and polluting the air and rivers. Public transportation (another wicked problem) is decreasingly accessible, and people are forced to make longer commutes and use more fossil fuels. Additionally, the cost to maintain and renovate houses is so high that few houses here are energy efficient.


Legislation regarding affordable housing is messy at best. Programs like Section 8 provide housing for low income families and individuals, but these solutions are meant to be temporary and sometimes people don’t move out. Waitlist time can last years, while eviction notices give far less time. In 2016 the City Council created an Affordable Housing Task Force to fill the need for over 17,000 affordable housing units. Education on loans, housing, and family care is also scarce.


Jungk Reading + Block Reading

Both of these readings talked heavily about ownership. The best way to help people take action and be accountable for a solution is to make them feel ownership over the solution, and the best way to do that is for them to contribute to shaping it.

Jungk says that we are used to getting instructions from “the man”, and our desires and imagination have been systematically suppressed. I find this interesting because we often can’t even feel the limits on our imagination.

The way Block talks about sections of our communities working separately yet in parallel, makes me think of the many times we’ve talked about diverse stakeholders. It’s useful to bring them together to get diverse perspectives, but it’s also necessary to inorganically create such an environment in order to do that because we’re all so out of touch with each other otherwise.

The solution is about both those communities and places that are paying the price and their more prosperous neighbors.

I suspect that the concept of social capital — the quality of relationships and the cohesion that exists among citizens — is particularly relevant to the affordable housing problem. The most affected people have been historically marginalized; a century ago, lower-income homes were built on steep hills and other such undesirable conditions, away from the main hubs of the Pittsburgh community, and now many of them live without security even in their own homes, if they still have one. The increase in university attendance and move-in of corporate giants are signs of further wage gap increase in the future, but somehow we need to find a narrative that shows clearly how each citizen’s safety and success is dependent on the success of all others.

Questions I have:

  • How can the bigger community give them what they need?
  • What community do they feel they belong to?
  • “for every city that prospers, there is another city nearby that is paying the price for that prosperity” — whose price are they paying? where is money??

Studio: map the problem space

Green — affinity, Red — opposition


Our team of 6 split into 3 groups, each pair representing a stakeholder we chose to focus on. Adella and I are role playing councilmen in the Pittsburgh City Council. Below is the storyboard we drew, and a link to our script.


Studio: discuss interconnections; visioning lecture

In class we watched the other pairs’ skits spelling out their hopes and fears. The most interesting part was after we performed, when we were all called together to defend our positions. As a councilman I felt very caught in the middle between homeowners and corporations, but it felt easy to shift the blame to others. I found myself using the 2016 Report as proof that the Council know what the people need, and we could do something once we had the money, it’s just that other groups won’t give us the money.

As a persona who is typically criticized for doing nothing, not hearing the people, etc. it was easier to empathize when we researched their jobs and what they do, especially when we had to go off script and defend our positions. For “evil” personas in other groups too (big corporations, developers, politicians) it was helpful to see them humanized.

One thing that surprised me was the emotion I felt watching a few of my classmates portraying single parents, workers with long hours, even criminals, and other people in hard positions feeling without options or hope.

The third position in each group was typically a stakeholder who was benefitting from the situation — for-profit corporations, young professionals moving in with relatively high incomes, etc. It felt uncomfortable to see them standing there next to the ones who seemed to be paying for their profit.


“A Day In My Life In 2047”
Time for work again
Gonna work from home today
Go in, robot me

“Community In 2047”
Today no one saw
Anyone else from work ’cause
Guess we chose not to

Dator Reading

Dator raises compelling ethical questions about our responsibility to future generations. It adds another dimension to systems thinking, to consider a world that we will impact but specifically won’t be around to see. Dator also draws interesting comparisons between creativity and logic, revealing a kind of science behind both. There is actually a lot of structure, perseverance and discipline involved in creative thinking that people don’t always realize. Evidently, futures thinking requires such a mix of factual knowledge (i.e. research of the past) and alternative thinking.


Studio: stakeholder exercises

Today we learned 4 archetypal futures:

1. Growth 2. Collapse 3. Discipline and 4. Transformation.

These archetypes provide us with helpful boundaries within which to frame our imagined futures. One thing I took away from Stuart’s lecture was that people “steer by tracking outcomes,” not particular details. Each of these scenario types describes an outcome and makes forecasting easier by skipping right to the end result. By backcasting we can figure out some particulars, which is where I found I really imagined feeling what life might feel like and what values people might uphold moving towards that particular future.

In the in-class exercise (with the nuclear disaster-caused “collapse” future in Pittsburgh) I found myself drawing a lot from historical examples to extrapolate what would happen as a result of x, or what would happen to cause y. This reminded me of Terry’s point of learning from the past,

My group was assigned to imagine a future of “Discipline.”

Candy-Dator-Dunagan Reading (Hawaii 2050)

I felt that this reading helped me a lot in forming our future scenario. Many aspects of the future are considered, from population makeup to water to technology, and more importantly they are concrete and specific. In each scenario they tie together and help paint a more complete picture of that world. I tried to help my group tell a story in a similar fashion for our scenario.

Our STEEP Story

Ideating an alternative future based on disciplined practices.

Link with STEEP descriptions here

The rise of the tech industry in Pittsburgh has helped the local economy boom. With their tremendous profit comes pressure from the public and leaders in positions of power, who see tech giants at fault for their impact on the environment and local culture, and they feel compelled to take responsibility. A political-tech relationship is established to help those in need, leading to a corporate-sponsored reconstruction of the entire city’s infrastructure to be replaced with smart homes.

This tech is subsidized and accessible to everyone, dramatically increasing the standard of living. The homes gather data at micro and macro levels around the clock, sent back to the tech companies to inform business decisions at an international level (along with global market research).

Yinzers see the rise of a new Pittsburgh, a sustainable city. The upkeep of the city is driven by a feeling of moral responsibility to the environment. The government recognizes the global trend towards zero-waste economies, and imposes policies on waste product usage, affects manufacturers and consumers alike. People, in turn, adopt zero-waste habits and lifestyles.

The move towards minimalist lifestyles lessens the value of material possessions, and places more on knowledge and intelligence. Crime rates drop. With technology making “on-demand education” accessible to all, people take education upon themselves, leading to increased rates of higher education and spurring the job market. People work for the sake of their community, rather than getting themselves ahead.

Politicians emphasize environmental concern and support for technological advancement, as well as an altruistic spirit. Water and air quality is cleaner than it has been since the 1920's.


Studio: review; lifestyle lecture

Our group’s collective thoughts on the 4 scenarios

In class we considered affordable housing in all four types of future scenarios, written by ourselves and 3 other groups. It was interesting to note general similarities, such as how many futures are green. Almost all imagine more advanced technology, though with great limitations on who has access.

I feel that these futures aren’t as divergent as they could be. Maybe collectively the class still takes too many cues from the present. Moving on to preferable futures now, I know I need to more critically consider what is even preferable — I feel it can’t be that everything is bigger, better, and more.


Preferable future exercise

As I personally approached this exercise, I started by trying to address what people really want from the issue of affordable housing:

  • safety
  • somewhere consistent to return to
  • -> after they’ve gone out and pursued their passions during the day?
  • somewhere personalized
  • to perform tasks to satisfy their basic needs (hunger, sleep, clothing -> cooking, comfortable safe place, store clothes)
  • community, closeness, trust, hospitality
  • peace

This led me to reevaluate the notion of a home, and freed me to move away from the image of a traditional Pittsburgh house.

Pittsburgh houses in the present — kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, living room, basement, porch, a car out front.

To get our creative juices flowing my group discussed what our personal desired futures looked like. Taking elements from each of our visions, we wrote this story of a future Pittsburgh with an ideal state of affordable housing.

I think our vision feels a tad absurd at first for 30 years out, but as Dator says our futures should at first appear absurd — but they shouldn’t stay absurd. I think we have stayed grounded in our research of current and past events, as well as technological trajectories, to imagine


Studio: sketch 2050 beliefs/assumptions

Class sharing of each group’s preferable future in 2050.

general notes & common aspects:

  • people appreciate local resources and interdependence
  • universal pay leads to a sense of having enough, shift in values
  • artificial intelligence monitors a lot of things and works out well
  • shared resources
  • rise in middle class, wealth gap diminished
  • lifelong learning — everyone is a teacher and a student
  • (?) pursue specialized interests, even though we’re exposed to more
  • (?) if there’s no conflict, are we still human?
  • (?) more involvement in community, but in many scenarios people often opt to stay home/check in remotely
  • some scenarios resolve their topic completely, perfectly (water, transportation). others (crime) don’t get rid of their problem completely. some (education, housing) are not as much a question of how much, but how and how well.

A vision is a scenario that you want, completely different from what is probable. Now we move on to think about what kind of transitions occurred to achieve our future, and how?

Not only what’s happening in 2050, but how did 2050 happen?

“Three Horizons” model of change

1- current prevailing system (fading paradigms and technologies)

3- future (pockets of the future found in present)

2- transition and instability (transition, conflicts)

We applied the above graph to our topic, considering what existing practices need to decline (h1), what disruptive events will emerge (h2), and what seeds of the future exist and need to blossom (h3).

By doing this exercise, my team had to begin thinking about the granular and concrete details of our future vision. We began to see which areas of our future scenario were too vague or underthought. In our first pass at mapping our 3 horizons, we found our post-its were too high level which was unhelpful in taking next steps. We tried again, thinking about actual things that had to disappear or appear to achieve our scenario.

Three Horizons exercise

It was difficult to imagine concrete, detailed events that would lead to such a radical shift in mindset — but it helped to remember the swift changes we’ve actually historically seen, like the rise of the internet and smart phones in only 10 or 20 years. The activity also reminded me of the “benchmark goals” we talked about last year in Futures, breaking the future down into 10-year goals to eventually reach the ideal vision, and I found this tactic to be helpful here too as we broke down what happened in segments, and had shorter time spans to fill in detail.

At the end of our timeline, we built a bit on the concept of cosmopolitan localism: local scale, context-specific solutions, taking into account culture etc, leveraging what everyone in the community can bring. We used it to reimagine the infrastructure of the city, where government and resources are decentralized, thus housing and other basic needs become local and affordable.

Our timeline of events leading to our future vision
Right: Identifying parts of daily life, and the place of the home in that. Middle: New infrastructure based on cosmopolitan localism.

Porritt Reading

Alex McKay writes as an old man from the year 2050 gathering memories from the “past 30 years.” I thought this writing format was pretty interesting and immersive, and his timeline of global events juxtaposed with evens in his personal life was compelling. The global events were generally along the lines of disasters, riots and wars, or global initiatives. Some terms are undefined, like many of the names of riots and wars, which I actually found interesting and more immersive as it allowed me to imagine.

The future described here shares a lot of similarities with the class’s collective futures, such as the emergence of a sharing economy. One thing this article did well was articulating the crises and hardships that happened along the way, and how groups of people coped in relation to their current and historical traditions like the Japanese currency crash.

It also does well at talking about balance, such as in this quote: “small is no more beautiful than big, and virtual no more exciting than bricks and mortar.” Many of our futures appear over-simplified in comparison because we pushed for one extreme or the other in terms of lifestyle or certain technologies. Another thing we can take away is the discussion of global events, as successes and hardships in other places also affect us.


Studio: review; theories of change lecture

For the first part of class, we walked around and looked at each others’ timelines and artifacts. We discussed making even our messiest sketches presentable, and how our group’s timeline showed good hierarchy and organization.

For the second part Terry talked to us about Max-Neef’s theory of needs, and what it means to satisfy “genuine human needs.” To me it brought into stark contrast the designs of nature vs. man and how short-lived are the things that we design, in comparison to a planet that has sustained itself and many lifeforms for billions of years.

Needs & Consequences Exercise

Left: JanSport backpack; Right: Parks

Thinking about a man-made design that inhibited no or few genuine needs was near impossible. The closest I could think of was something whose cons were outweighed by its pros, but nearly every engineered thing inhibited some need (most commonly, negative impacts on the environment in its creation or production).


Studio: backcasting exercise

We began applying these concepts to our project — if we were to design an intervention, what needs are we aiming to satisfy? What needs might be inhibited as a result, intentionally or not?

Also, after taking a look at my classmates’ Needs & Consequences assignments, I took another crack at it, this time incorporating Max-Neef’s theory of needs more as the focus. Using this categorization, it was easier to see how parks satisfy more of our fundamental needs at once.

Service Design 101 Reading

A lot of the terminology and articulation in this reading helped solidify my understanding of service design.


  • Services are intangible economic goods, leading to outcomes instead of physical products

Who is involved in a service?

Service users:

  • Service customers: purchasing the service (sometimes a different user than who is actually using the service)
  • Service users: directly use the service to achieve the outcome

Service employees:

  • Frontstage service employees: deliver the service to the user
  • Backstage service employees: make everything happen in the background; users don’t see or interact with these people
  • Partner service employees: other partners involved in delivering the service

Touchpoints: exchange moments in which users engage with the service

  • People: employees and other customers encountered in the service
  • Place: such as the physical space or virtual environment through which the service is delivered
  • Props: objects and collateral used to produce the service encounter
  • Partners: other businesses or entities that help to produce or enhance the service
  • Processes: workflows and rituals that are used to produce the service (relates the people, place, props, and partners)

Services are often purchased or used more than once (unlike physical products). The service cycle is a reference to help guide designers when they approach a service design, and I noticed that it includes the stages before entering a service and after exiting.

According to the article, service design emerged as “the convergence of all of [graphic design, industrial design, interaction design, etc.]… to coordinate service outcomes.” It illustrates how service design is necessary to create holistic experiences, and considers every touchpoint that a user will encounter.

Intervention Group Brainstorm

We picked 6 different issues/points of possible intervention, based roughly on STEEP factors: Gentrification (S) Education (S, T), Economics (Ec), Energy (T), Legislation (P), and Transportation (T, P).

Focusing on education, I started by listing the needs that currently exist in the city and that education would need to satisfy. I also bolded the points that relate more directly to affordable housing:

  • Subsistence: teach sustainable habits, shift reliance to local resources, work for direct impact on your community. Build generations with habits of living that are sustainable and can provide for longer. Local and sustainable resources means the value of land is secured.
  • Affection: trust and safety in the community. Families bond and are more involved in their children’s learning.
  • Participation: teach community-minded thinking, encourage contribution to the community, reward and recognize student learning and achievement. Make education more accessible, more students, more learning. More widespread knowledge of these principles
  • Understanding: awareness of natural life cycles, cause and effect, diversity, human differences, culture. Break down barriers, lessen prejudice and discrimination, diverse people can live together, communities aren’t so segregated, people have more freedom to live somewhere nice
  • Creation: encourage learning pursuits. Develop new housing units that are energy efficient, sustainable. AI technology improved.
  • Freedom: with less segregated communities, people are able to live where they want and have access to more needs, i.e. transportation, grocery stores.

What kind of intervention would lead to these needs being met? My first thought was legislation would need to be passed to implement this teaching in the classroom, which would build up the next generations.

But what about current generations? We know that new forms of education are emerging, like the flipped classroom model and on-demand learning with the Internet. People are just starting to see the value of preparing students in school for life rather than for tests. There is a movement involving “digital badges” that rewards people for learning anytime, anywhere. This might fit with the goal of teaching students to learn for learning’s sake.

For people who are in need of affordable housing, most are already out of school and not looking for education. Some are looking for housing assistance, some for jobs. I believe there might be an opportunity there to teach them these values for later in their lives, as well as and especially for posterity.

We introduce an education initiative that teaches a range of generations of Pittsburghers these values. For younger students, this intervention takes place in the classroom. This involves a curriculum change, after school programs that encourage community efforts, and technology or other materials to enable learning outside the classroom. For older residents or people not in school, resume-building and job hunt assistance programs incorporate education on sustainable living (with the incentive of saving money), local resources (saving money) and alternative forms of transportation(?).

Team’s collective interventions:


Studio: intro to service design (Sv)

  • user comes first
  • shared economy
  • designing touchpoints and understanding human and non-human actors in a system

In our teams we did a 2-hour design sprint creating a service for sharing music. This involved brainstorming, creating scenarios, a service blueprint and presenting a pitch for the service.

Left: Brainstorming scenarios; Right: service blueprint

Practical Service Blueprinting Reading

This reading articulates why service design is appropriate for wicked problems with multiple stakeholders and touchpoints: “blueprinting
works great for ecosystem-level scenarios that span and intersect
across a web of offerings related to the service.”

A helpful diagram that provides vocabulary to use for what we are trying to do.

I began thinking of service design being mapped to a city, with actors such as government, businesses, residents, energy and water providers, each with frontstage and many, many backstage actors. One thing that comes to mind in terms of designing a service for affordable housing is that the blueprint will definitely reveal the involvement of many of the other wicked problems in the class in affordable housing.


Studio: dissect Sv case studies

Is capitalism a barrier to our solutions? Do we need a paradigm shift in how we think about capitalism?

4-minute presentations

Our presentation here. We also took note of the interventions proposed by other teams where they overlapped with our topic, such as:


Afterschool pop up activities teach life skills

Teach children how their waste and activity affect the world

Environmental exposure program — awareness of ties to natural world


Environmental design in engineering

Water visibility — Encourage people to fix and keep their water systems up to date


Removing stigma around ex-cons lead to better relationships with neighbors and neighborhoods are less segregated

Housing prices very relevant to neighborhood reputation

Air quality

repurposing land — farmers markets or community spaces, garden education

purifying air in communities, improving quality and value of land

reward points at local eateries, groceries, etc. for walking


Food education

Crowdsourced autonomous food rescue — reach food deserts

On-demand pantry delivery — alleviates stress for homes located in food deserts


2 groups — old and new residents

Mixed housing — low and high income residents live together, more adv neighborhood, housing more affordable

New residents understand the neighborhood they’re moving into

Block watch system — decrease crime, boost property value. higher income residents subsidize

education — participatory and informed citizens

Community mural, a physical artifact to allow residents to come and interact and discuss what they want their neighborhood and home to look like

currently, new residents move in it boosts property value and displaces older residents


Life Day — celebrates environment, raise awareness for disasters in the past

Life focused education, accessible to all and standardize, geared towards green and sustainable living, lifestyle changes to shift worldview

Community based transportation (shared vehicles?) reduces burden of cost of transportation and can focus more on cost of housing

A lot of these interventions addressed issues that might not seem immediately relevant to our topics. They were seldom quick fixes, a sign that we are considering larger scales and system-level change. We had a lot of emphasis on teaching “life skills,” expanding existing but non-mainstream ideas like community-building, shared resources and sustainability.


Readings (TAPSE, Cases, LEAP Dialogues)

To me, one of the most enlightening ideas I took away from these reading was that the dichotomy of imagining and implementing are not really opposites at all, though one is often seen as more “indulgent” and the other more realistic or grounded. This relates to applying design to not only products and services, but also business models. Instead of an add-on or a separate problem for later, the business model ought to be incorporated in the service design from the beginning, marrying the thinking and implementing stages instead of conducting them separately (designers pass sketches to developers). “The goal of design can be to create margin and differentiate from competitors — two core elements of a successful business.” It’s interesting to think of using design in such a business-minded way, especially without the capitalist factors and rather creating a voice or art within company culture and the areas the company influences, as with Tommy Lynn’s example at Dell.

Another interesting concept was the idea of designing not just scenarios, but ourselves within those scenarios. For me the articulation and vocabulary in Stuart’s foreword just further drove the idea that we’re trying to create lifestyles and ways of thinking, ways that people operate and not just the world around them.

Service Blueprint (Rough)

Drawing inspiration from movements like Grow with Google and architectural projects like paraSITE, we wanted to build our services off of sentiments such as:

“… showing techies what they can do to help their neighbors benefit from the tech economy as much as they have.” —


“We believe the tech industry can and should generate widespread opportunity instead of inequality and displacement.” — TechEquity

Diving into the future we wanted, we once again reiterated the idea that Pittsburgh would grow to become a city that people would want to move to, because of job opportunities, sustainable lifestyles and so on. Working backwards, we wanted a tech and innovation hub to emerge in Pittsburgh to attract and retain in-migrants, while old residents wouldn’t be displaced because housing has reached a point such that a home is cost-efficient (prices won’t go up by much, the government chooses to protect the right to stable housing) and takes up less space. This goes back to the idea of minimal lifestyles and decentralized ownership.

[white board images]

From that, we connected it to the current problem that exists with service like Section 8, where the time it takes people to find a new home and the time they have to vacate upon receiving an eviction notice is unfairly mismatched. If neighborhoods were hospitable and people trusted their neighbors, perhaps they could lend a hand, while the evicted homeowner gets back on his feet and maybe even builds new skills along the way.

This is a first pass at a service. For next steps we want to look more closely at the details of the eviction process, which involves scaling down to specific neighborhoods, as well as think deeper about the social implications of the type of service we’ve proposed.


Studio: intro to design for social innovation (Si)

Today we looked at a case study of social innovation design in the fishing industry in Indonesia. Cheryl described a lengthy process of getting to know the fishermen and their community and customs.

It was really interesting to hear her realizations about why a solution borne from our culture — the smart phone, an individualistic device, or improving business visibility— was inappropriate for their culture of sharing and gifting where monetary profit is not as valued.

Social innovation framework to understand different types of interventions. One thing I realized is that “low-impact” is not bad, because of the wording in this diagram that makes clear that a niche group of users may just have more specific or customized needs, but they are still needs.

Afterwards we tried to apply it by ideating a couple social innovation designs ourselves.


Studio: dissect Si case studies

We were introduced to social design pathways, a helpful model for thinking about the people involved and the scale of the project at its onset/early stages:

Our team’s application of this framework for affordable housing:

We got feedback that our descriptions in our matrix were too broad initially, so we tried to drill down into more specific and concrete solutions. I began to see the relationships across rows and columns between project scale and how individual, team and multi-group projects relate and compare. It helped to map out our stakeholders again, and realize that cross-sector projects would involve collaboration between groups of our stakeholders. Another thing I found useful was seeing how stand-alone projects might fit into system or culture level changes. These helped make the framework less abstract and more useful.

Midsemester Reflection

For me, this practice called transition design is a solid framework for conducting design. I feel that we’ve been given the vocabulary to frame the problems of today, methods to outline future scenarios and directions that are promising or desirable, and clarity for how a designer fits into it all.

I was a bit thrown when we were told this semester’s focus is the frameworks, not the content of the projects. Looking on it now though, it makes sense. Still, I’m sorely missing the field research aspect of this studio. The introduction of a large quantity of frameworks leaves us little opportunity in the semester to apply them meaningfully, especially without data. I feel that we aren’t yet able to make a case for transition design, why we are approaching the problems the way we are with quantitative and qualitative evidence. To make our case to companies and others, theories won’t hold the same weight.


Reflecting on the Semester

How do interventions compare to solutions?

When we create an intervention, we put it out there with the intention of getting information back in order to further think on the topic. It’s not an endpoint, but a continuation for us to learn, and informs our next step. Interventions still intend to help or solve something, but it’s important to understand it as a means of inquiry, research in a different form.

Studio: brainstorm Si interventions

We took 6 intervention ideas we had so far and committed to looking closer at them. After listing out what we could learn more about, what we didn’t know, and what other topics were related for each intervention, we looked at all our interventions as a class.

Our interventions (with comments from classmates):

We took time to note the overlap of other groups’ interventions. This was definitely a helpful exercise because some groups had very similar solutions to ours, but with perhaps a couple different aspects and a different focus. Some interventions in other groups addressed affordable housing a good amount.

For example, the air quality group had a solution centered around getting sustainable energy tech into people’s homes, but their model was a communal, renting/sharing one (while ours proposed individual ownership).

I am most interested in working on improving the Section 8 interface and service. This will involve understanding the existing service, how people currently discover and use it, who the users are, etc.


Studio: discuss interventions; define direction

Team: Adella, Hae Wan, Noah + me

To-do: Answer the following questions.

Identify the problems that lead to interventions

In our previous research, we identified Section 8 (or the Housing Choice Voucher program) as a possible point of intervention. It’s an existing yet noneffective solution to get people affordable housing: people who need it don’t know about it, they lack the resources (computers or Internet) to use it, they get put on waitlists for years to get vouchers (vouchers allow low-income residents’ rent to be partially paid by local housing authorities), many landlords don’t even take the vouchers because of discrimination against voucher users, vouchers expire before they’re taken, the ones who lose their voucher have to apply again when the application is only open a week or two every few years because authorities take a long time to prove eligibility, and maintain waitlists, because there aren’t enough vouchers.

Summary of problems:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Lack of access
  • Lack of vouchers (not enough supply for demand)
  • Section 8 stigma
I quickly diagrammed my understanding of the situation (not to scale). “The Housing Choice Voucher program has had, as of late, a lousy track record of getting needy families into homes locally.”

List research questions — what do you want to learn? What do we need to make to learn these things?

I’m interested to know what causes the waitlist to get so backed up, such as legislative and social factors. (Is it the qualifications for eligibility? Why do eligibility checks and apartment inspections take so long?) I’m also curious to know what services exist to alleviate more immediate needs while people wait for Section 8 to come through. To learn these things, it might help to talk with stakeholders like a Section 8 employee or someone using the program. Other resources, if we are to avoid intruding upon the community, include previous research on the topic such as UCRE projects where our classmates conducted contextual inquiries.

I’m not yet sure what artifacts could help us research these questions. It’s difficult to understand the sheer quantity of applications that policy makers deal with, and the amount of time spent waiting that applicants experience.

As a peripheral thought, after Terry’s lectures, I’m interested in the aftereffects of our design as well. This might be outside the scope of one semester’s worth of work and rather long-term, but I’d be interested to observe the successfulness of the intervention we think up.

Define the design opportunity (What’s the shift in power? Who are we empowering?)

We felt that Section 8 was a touchpoint that could impact even culture-level changes. We aim to improve the service provided by Section 8 to be more streamlined and get more people into affordable homes. In addition to the service itself, I feel we need to raise awareness for and accessibility to Section 8, and address the stigma surrounding voucher holders. We could aim to empower homeowners to take action to find better quality affordable housing, or empower landlords to rent to voucher holders with less fear and prejudice.

Shifting paradigms might address:

  • “There is a stigma that a person with a Section 8 won’t respect the property, and the housing authority has strict rules about how the unit has to be and people don’t like dealing with bureaucracy.”
  • “…voucher holders tend to settle in areas already high in crime because they are excluded from more in-demand neighborhoods, but the vouchers themselves are not correlated to criminal behavior.”
  • Landlords’ attitudes towards vouchers. “What I think a landlord says [by refusing vouchers] is, ‘I would like to remain a slumlord. I would like to continue to rent it out without providing a decent place to live,’” Lavelle said.

Start telling stories

I can see a narrative forming around a homeowner, inviting newcomers to the topic to step in and experience the pain points of the Section 8 application, the waitlist, the voucher and house-hunting, etc. The background and introduction will be very much rooted in social stigma and discrimination.

What do you need to capture to frame your story?

  • Snapshots of the current application process
  • The experience of waiting — to get on the waitlist, for a voucher, to hear back from landlords, etc.
  • The SCALE of the problem (neighborhood → citywide → national)


Studio: gather information; small group meetings

The team spent a good portion of class today planning our timeline of deliverables and what we want to learn.

I think we hit on some really interesting questions regarding the scope of our intervention. We realized that patching up the existing Section 8 program wouldn’t address many deeper systemic issues surrounding affordable housing. For instance, improving the user experience for applicants on the Section 8 site won’t help them if stigmas still exist around vouchers and landlords don’t take them, or if it helps more people apply yet the PHA can still only distribute the same amount of vouchers (in fact, driving more traffic to them might be even more detrimental). With this realization, we decided to design for the present and future in parallel, with both scenarios working hand-in-hand to tell a story of change in our culture’s view of access to affordable housing.

After looking into the application process a bit more, I wondered if it might be possible to actually streamline the PHA’s weaning task by providing a bit more information for applicants before they apply. A lot of time in the PHA is spent checking applicants’ eligibility before adding them to the waitlist, elongating the process for everyone involved. Still, the issue of an insufficient supply of vouchers remains.



10/30: Research Question, begin maps

11/01: Work on maps (see 11/06), possible interview with Dr. Anita Zuberi

11/06: Task Analysis, Stakeholder Map, Territory Map, Wicked Problem Relationships Map, Value Flow diagram, Timeline to 2030

11/08: User Persona, Storyboard, Service Blueprint, Branding System (start)

11/13: Parallel low-fi prototypes

11/15: Parallel mid-fi prototypes, Service Blueprint (Finish)

11/20: Hi-fi prototypes (Refine)

11/27: Hi-fi prototypes (Finish), Presentation deck (Begin)

11/29: Presentation deck (Finish)


Today my group met with Natalie, Jasper, Chris and Juliana’s group to discuss the overlaps in our interventions. They explained to us their idea for community members to jointly fund a poor neighbor who needs help with a down payment on a desired house, with the reward of interest when the house is sold and higher credit scores. The meeting gave me new perspective on the role of gentrification and how property values increase, generating more money for the city.

I felt really overwhelmed today as we tried draw out our future vision was. Though we had planned to have two scenarios, a long-term and short-term, I increasingly felt like our short term intervention (at a glance, improving the site and user interface) wouldn’t solve anything at all in terms of getting people houses.

Stuart encouraged us to research through design, so our next step will be to determine what we can make, make them, and see what else we can learn from our deliverables.



We identified the following as components of our deliverable:

1. Section 8 interface improvement

2. A partnership between Pittsburgh and an organization to address funding and shortage of houses

3. Jump to a future vision where stigma (the biggest problem, outside our scope) has been addressed — AI addresses discrimination & biases (no longer dependent on landlord’s acceptance; govt. eligibility checks not manual so is faster and waitlist streamlined)

Getting Stuart’s help: In the way that Section 8 is a piece of evidence of the problem of affordable housing in the present, we want to create an artifact that stands as a signifier or clue of the ideal future we’re envisioning. For example, an iPhone brought back to the 1950’s raises questions about the state of technology, and hints at ways of life, work and social constructs, as well as the paradigms of people’s relationships to devices that we have today. We can also bring back pieces from our timeline story from before (minimal lifestyle, community, sustainable living).

By the end of class, we were more solid with our narrative. In a brief overview, our user Bob is a low-income man with a family who wants to a nicer home but needs some help to afford it. He enters his information into the replacement service for Section 8, an intelligent system instantly confirms his eligibility and he’s matched with some possible homes based on neighborhood preferences, proximity to community resources, etc. The place, like all housing units, are sustainable and high-quality yet compact (cheaper and leaves room for more). For his part, Bob gets to choose the home that his family likes best. :)

Adella and I are working on the future scenario half, while Noah and Hae Wan research Section 8 and develop branding. Our pair’s next steps are understanding our user’s experience through design methods like customer journeys, service blueprints and territory maps.

Our revised plan (ver 3):



Checking points:

  • scaling & scoping
  • addressing everyone’s interests
  • how to conceive of making as research — the form is very similar to all the stuff we’ve been making in school
  • connecting making to what you want to learn — what do we make to find the answer to something?
  • targeting an inaccessible audience — think resourcefully, think of constraints as part of design process,

Stacie’s help for our team:

“envision futures that inform what we can make in the present”

Talking to Stacie helped us frame what we’re making in a way such that they begin to answer our questions, such as:

  • How can design be used to change stigma?
  • How can creating an immersive experience positioned in 2050 help them change their views/help mitigate stigma around Section 8?
  • Why are we focusing on Section 8 as a means to address stigma?

We narrowed down the specificity of the questions we were asking, scaling our project to a much more manageable size. It also helped us think about how we might recognize if our questions have been answered (qualitative and quantitative feedback), who we would put our intervention in front of (our audience), and other more concrete things that guided our making. Our work from this class can be read here.

Mapping the Wicked Problem (Again)


Pulling together again, we created a service blueprint and used the physical evidence row to understand what deliverables we could make to convey our narrative. From this process, we identified design opportunities such as:

  • using AI data to know when someone gets an eviction notice. We can send them a package or some form of onboarding to help them start on next steps immediately, whether finding a new place or getting a job to keep their current place.
  • onboarding to lead users to our website with more information, application, etc.
  • using information
  • empowering tenants to sustain themselves, with job training and skill building, instead of indeterminately relying on the government.

Speed dating presentation for Monday:


Studio: present intervention ideas

Questions we got:

As far as a probe, what are we trying to get back?

  • reactions to this future we’re painting

What are we actually showing, and to whom? Do we have a deliverable for the short-term/present?

  • a pitch, our visualization of the narrative (i.e. the poster we’ve been thinking of making)
  • prototype of the onboarding package
  • show the pitch to landlords, possibly city council, and get them thinking about the possibility of this future
  • get them thinking that low-income residents have potential to get a firm standing too with a little help

Who funds the tablets? Why does it have to be a tablet?

  • easy and immediate access to the online onboarding and application

Could it be a person or representative who comes? It would feel better if there was a person-to-person connection, working through the problem together.

Bob’s neighbors are probably also getting evicted. How many tablets is that?

How does this address stigma? I thought stigma comes from people not involved — those watching from the sidelines?

What’s our near intervention and timeline to get to this future?


Package is great — there’s a problem that people can’t find out about Section 8 except through word of mouth, and they don’t have computers.

“How does Bob feel?” — a package feels like a gift in a time of stress; motivating and inspiring

Tone of website is good. — except, who is “we”?

From this speed dating session, there seemed to be a disparity between the concreteness of other projects and ours. We saw groups explain board games, a card pack, and a water filter. Compared to this, our deliverables of a “service” and a narrative “visualization” seemed too huge. We wanted to learn from our onboarding package prototype how people would feel in the scenario we had set, how they might respond, and whether their mindset might shift about the possibilities of helping their low-income neighbors. This seemed to confuse a lot of groups, so maybe our goals are still too abstract.

I think our biggest problems were in lack of clarity on our research direction. Our peers frequently didn’t understand what we were looking to do — an indication that our scope is too big, and too far removed from our research question.


Studio: review narratives; revision exercise

Coming together as a group again, we worked to really scope down, to tighten our narrative and make our work manageable for 4 people.

We believe that for our tangible artifact, focusing on the onboarding package can address front and back ends of the system, give clues to the abstract future while having a tangible artifact to show. The story we want to bring to focus is this:

Get people homes → Better living and stability→ They get jobs → Economic growth

So, can we educate and incentivize landlords to help out low-income residents in need of housing?

We feel that with centralized data from the government, we can imagine a future in which they preemptively send information packages to tenants about affordable housing options before they’re evicted. This lets them start looking for options before it’s too late.

On the other hand, we want to educate landlords about the worthiness of helping low-income residents seeking housing in their buildings, so we’re designing an information package for them as well. Once a tenant applies to their building, the landlord receives their package.

Tenant package:

  • Notice — “You’re in danger of eviction”, background info on Section 8
  • Apartment housing options
  • Application forms for those apartments

Landlord package:

  • Notice — “A Section 8 user has applied to your building”
  • Why you should help/accept them (economic growth, increase property value)

We’re creating a diagetic narrative, the package as an artifact from the future.


Studio: design/create prototypes; group meetings

Today we split up work by form and content. I worked on writing copy for our print pieces while Noah experimented with different forms for the packages.

Noah’s prototypes

Talking to Stacie, the group realized that we’ve been very focused on the deliverable and thinking of the artifacts as proposed solutions. We need to think of them more in the context of a system to gather more research.

“you’re a landlord a good person trying to make ends meet what do u do”

My first thought was to facilitate a scenario for users where they role play landlords. We present them with some pretend applications filled out for their building, some from regular potential tenants and one from a Section 8-er, an the last one would prompt our designed package to be sent as well.

I think the presence of the notice package would tacitly tip them off to the stigma that surrounds the Section 8 person. If we present all the applications as neutrally as possible, we could measure who the user chooses to accept into their building at the end of the day.

With my team, we brainstormed some deliverables to be more focused on this hypothetical design research session.

  1. personas for different applicants
  2. different forms of the package for landlords
  3. modes of delivery— what is the most effective means to improve the channel between them?



Sketching out our setup, and highlighting the pieces to prioritize for our “science fair” classtime.

Stacie’s suggestions:

  • build up complexity
  • look through different lenses, different scenarios see what decisions and why
  • consider whether we use “Section 8” terminology — where does stigma come into play?

Revised service flow (rough)


We’re going to frame our research tool as a design activity, and the science fair as a way to test with our peers whether our activity asks the right questions for landlords. Our tool is a means to discover how people make decisions, based on situational information and personal biases.


To explain the story and how the system works after people have participated in our activity, we’re designing a visual piece that will show a diagram of the stakeholders and touchpoints in our system, with a focus on “Tenant 1” (the Section 8 user) and “Landlord C” (the role being played).

Diagram skeleton:

To fully understand the experience of our activity, Adella and I worked on a script for us to use while facilitating. Our process included working out different levels of complexity (as Stacie suggested to us) and walking through them to feel out what reasons people might choose for one persona or another. Incorporating as much feedback as we could, we decided on 4 main “rounds.” After receiving the prompt for each, the user (roleplaying a landlord) would choose one tenant to lease the unit to. Users will:

  • See tenant profiles only
  • See tenants’ rental applications with current Section 8 voucher
  • See tenants’ rental applications with new Section 8 redesign
  • Choose a community type — then read “profile” of that community, and choose a tenant based on those criteria

Our 3 persona types are:

  • Bob: low income, partially blind in one eye, family, 34 yo, crime record DUI, in 2015 evicted for missing rent, works at CVS, “section 8”
  1. What’s going for him — Good tenant
  2. What’s against him — may not pay rent on time with record of eviction
  • Jackson: unemployed, quiet & stable, married no kids, lived in last resident for 7 years
  1. What’s going for him— Good tenant
  2. What’s against him— may not pay rent on time because no income
  • Logan & Laura: pay rent consistently (covered by parents), college students, loud, parties, no previous crime record or rental history
  1. What’s going for them — $$$
  2. What’s going against them — potential complaints



We brought in physical components today — a mockup of our board and figures, application forms, the landlord notice, the Section 8 voucher, and profile cards for our personas and homes — to see how everything feels.

In class we talked about the visual skin for the board, and about adjusting the size to fit all the applications on the board.

Board template:

(Housing profiles on the bottom would not all be there at the same time)

For next steps I’m illustrating the personas, creating content for the housing profiles and for the poster.


Final COmponents!



Everything (minus application forms)



At the class “science fair” we collected REAL data and feedback! For me, we got valuable insight into what drove people towards one tenant or another, as well as some feedback on specific parts of our components to improve.

Possible improvements:

  • More accurate finances on the application forms. I noticed that these numbers impacted student users less, but professors who had more experience with savings, investments and assets noted Bob’s oddly high savings balance. However, this was unintentional and due to my own lack of understanding about these figures.
  • The information design on the persona cards can be improved. People often missed things, such as Jackson being unemployed or Bob having children but not living with them. They made choices based on the incorrect information, i.e. choosing Jackson because they thought he had a job at a bank, or Bob because he had dependents to provide for.
  • The Section 8+ redesign can definitely be further improved. Some of the copy should be fine tuned, and the layout could be reworked to better highlight the benefits section.

Interesting things:

  • People put a lot of stock into the (supposed) fact that Bob had a family to support. For some, the presence of children persuaded them to give Bob priority to a home. For others, it made him a less attractive candidate because “kids are messy.”
  • Some people were very business-minded or money-driven, possibly as part of the roleplay but maybe not. Others were more sympathetic to the tenants as people.
  • We saw people visibly change their minds as they learned more information in the second round, with the first reveal of the application forms. I think we could play this up more strongly, so the first round is a “first impression” meeting of the tenants, and the application is more about background history.
  • The voucher in the second round was hit or miss. All users felt uncertain about the meaning of Section 8 after reading the document, some users got an accurate understanding but some completely missed the point. Not sure how accurately this would map to real landlords, since at this point I assume most or all of them know about subsidized housing. However, in the third round everyone thought the redesign was more clear and more approachable, and those who initially misunderstood the voucher went back to look at it again.
  • People actually read our content. I had expected a lot more skimming, but I suppose to application information is actually telling a story about these personas so people actually read it.
  • Same with the Section 8+ copy. Several users really picked up on the benefits offered, and Bob’s profile on the back made them more sympathetic to his situation.
  • One user claimed to be moved by the experience we had created. She was completely against Bob in the first round, but the application forms and the Section 8+ notice ended up changing her mind. I call it a success if we were able to emotionally impact someone with our intervention!
Go team!

The End (or is it…)

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