Design Research Studio

Senior Studio: Design for Social Innovation

8/28/17 — Introduction to Transition Design

Senior studio is definitely a big change in the direction of our design thinking. I’m excited to find the bigger purpose of design in helping solve societal problems whereas most of our focus (especially in studios) have been smaller-scaled. I’m also interested in finding how the new class style will work between lectures with Terry and studio classes with Stacie and Stuart. Having taken Learner’s Experience Design with Stacie, the lecture-exercises class style will definitely help to understand the problems/principles at a deep level and practice applying them until it’s embedded into our designs before we finalize.


Transition Design

Although the term transition design has been thrown around through my time in School of Design, I never had a clear grasp of what exactly it is.

While the definition itself abstract and constantly changing, I learned that it is design that has a systems level change by bringing together different disciplines. The two characteristics of transition being ‘Transition to sustainable future’ and ‘System-level change’, it is important that we, as designers, understand the the holarchic system before we start to intervene. In order to do this, we must see the relationships of how systems affect each other (interconnectedness), and the consequences of existing problems and our interventions.

What is transition design?

Systems Design

Within transition design, we will have to understand the different systems involved. The three systems (living, mechanical, and social-technical) influence each other in creating or solving wicked problems, thus, making the whole design process much more complex. This requires careful observation and research before shaping design solutions.

“Study the system well enough before the intervention” — Terry Irwin

This is why Terry’s story of how the acupuncturist took time to observe and understand the problem before going in to fix the problem with minimal physical intervention. I’ve often stressed about how I take too much time to grasp the project fully before starting to iterate, but I’m excited to focus more on researching and fully understanding the system.


Meadow Reading

After reading about systems design in the Meadow reading, I am somewhat confused as to how all the principles in the article fit into transition design. However, if there was one thing that I found as a major importance, it would be the position of leverage points (Places where a small shift can produce big changes) as a seemingly innocent part of a whole that actually is interconnected with all other systems — therefor influencing them to have major shifts. This links back to the holarchic design system and understanding the consequences of design. While I wont be able to talk about all 12 principles that affect leverage in complex system, I wanted point out some that stuck out to me as an important factor in transition design.

Lengths of delays relative to rate of system changes. We often talk about designing for long term and short term purposes. What we don’t talk about is how the society will change in the design’s time of existence and how long it will take for the design to have and show its effect. When setting goals for the future, if information receival is delayed, it will cause us to have inaccurate goals. If the response is delayed whereas information is timely, it will be impossible to know whether it will satisfy the changing society by the time the response is evident.

Negative and positive feedback loops. Negative feedback loop aims to sustain and go back to original state (homeostasis) and positive feedback loop aims to self-reinforce (success to be successful). It is important that we understand how to balance these feedback loops and control positive loops so the rate of ‘growth’, as talked about in the beginning of the article, give other societal factors to catch up. A personal example of this principle comes from my internship over the summer when I was building an internal design template tool for mobile designers. The ever-increasing categories of component category made it impossible to search for a certain component a designer needed to build a feature. So instead of trying to build a software that could search through all components to find the right one (which has been talked about multiple times), we decided to condense down and organize components into accessible, dropdown categories, while limiting ourselves to use a understandable category structure for building the library of components. Like this, Meadow emphasizes that reducing the positive loop has greater influence/is easier than strengthening negative loop.

One thing I had a hard time grasping is the relation of negative feedback loop in the market and democracy, which I hope to have clarified in class.

Structure and rule of systems. The category structure we implemented in my internship hints at Meadow’s ‘Rule of System’ that define scope, boundaries, and degree of freedom, if at a very small scale. These structures are high leverage points, and those who create these rules can have a heavy influence on how the system is transformed. However, it must be able to self-organize and evolve. Thus, it also restores/adds missing information instead of completely rebuilding the physic structure, which is much more difficult.

Lastly, mindset paradigm out of which system arises. Paradigm of society is shared mindset of society that every member knows or set beliefs on how the world works. These are the sources of systems. And while it is easy to influence individual’s paradigm, a society resists to changing their paradigm more than anything. As designers. it is essential that we break out of our paradigms to observe at a higher level (like Meadow said, “take it to the computers”). By observing unattached, our paradigm becomes flexible to accept other paradigm or justify paradigm outside of our own. If we could intervene systems at the paradigm level, we will be able to hit the leverage at the point of total system transformation.


8/30/17 — Wicked Problems in Pittsburgh

As I came back to studio having read the Meadow reading and reviewed Terry’s lecture, I wondered about how all this big ‘transition design’ ties into what we have been doing so far in design. Stacie and Stuart addressed this in class as both kinds of design — the higher level systems design and skill-based, craft oriented — should complement each other.

“What can you see at the high level that helps you see at zoomed level?”

I liked Stuart’s analogy to Google Maps, the bigger picture called transition design, allows us to see the smaller road maps of craft and design principles exist in context. With the ability to see both aspects in design, we should be able to zoom in and out to see how the two complement each other to solve complex system problems.


Ongoing Wicked Problems

Not much to my surprise, Pittsburgh has its own, current wicked problems. I’ve been exposed to some commonly talked about ones such as gentrification, affordable housing, and crime in other systems thinking classes, but what we talked about in class also dealt with a lot of severe environmental issues in Pittsburgh that I was not aware of.

Air Pollution
Of course air pollution is a problem in Pittsburgh. It was surprising that there were no air quality warnings just a few years ago. This problem could also tie into increasing traffic problems and even global warming. I think it’d be interesting to research what current activist groups are doing to better the situation.

Access to Clean Water 
Pittsburgh’s waters have been long polluted from old factories since its steel industry days. Although I was aware of this fact, I never realized that it was still an issue today. More than pollution from factories, Pittsburgh now seems to deal with more recent pollution problems such as fracking, aging infrastructures that now deposit rust into the water, and sewage overflow. I can connect a lot of this back to the lengths of delays mentioned in Meadow reading. For example, the water pipes in Pittsburgh were built long time ago, thus its long-term wear was a delayed response to timely info. Similarly, the sewage system could not have seen the fast growth of traffic, less soil-roads to soak up stormwater, growing houses and lawns to deposit pollutants into the drains, thus were not built up to size, which is now causing sewage overflow problems. This also pulls in negative feedback loop into the play, making me wonder if the growth in Pittsburgh needs to be slowed down.

Gentrification
With Pittsburgh rising as one of the best places to live (according to some newspapers, at least), there are a lot of neighborhoods being gentrified, that is, kicking out lower-income households to conform to middle class standard. This is what happened to East Liberty and Bakery Square (which used to be an actual bakery) which caused a lot of conflicts and protests by the original residents. This is a wicked problem that pulls in a lot of factors such as racism, rising house prices, lack of space etc… Lawrenceville may be an interesting place to examine as a neighborhood that is currently being gentrified. An acquaintance who lives in Lawrenceville had told me that his house had jumped in price by figures over just 15 years. The neighborhood used to attract poor students and artist which cultivated arts and music. Now, more families and young couples and middle to high class are starting to move in, taking out old stores and houses. There’s a plan for a big apartment complex to be built, and parking space is becoming scarce because it was originally planned for lower-class with maybe just one or even no car per household. Now each person in the household would own a car and there would be no place for all the vehicles.

Access to Affordable Housing
This ties in with gentrification largely. I remember doing a somewhat related project in my freshman year called “East Liberty Garage Sale” where my group and I explored abandoned houses in East Liberty to encourage using vacant spaces to encourage community events. However, rising prices to maintain houses is not something we looked into. It would be interesting to find what people who had to leave their homes because of rising rent say about this problem. It would also be interesting to find how lower-income households who are newly moving into Pittsburgh cope with finding places to live.

Access to Quality Affordable Food
You’d think that in the 21st century in the US everyone would have access to necessities such as food. However, such problems were not just the matter of poverty or not having enough money for food — an example was the only Giant Eagle in the area being shut down, cutting off people’s access to food. Stacie showed us some cool initiatives and services currently in Pittsburgh to help this problem such as farmers markets, soup kitchens, and food pantries. I think this is a problem that could also be related to homelessness, which is also a big problem I notice in Pittsburgh, so it would be an interesting issue to look into.

Access to Public Education
In the recent years, there has been cut in funding for public education and Pittsburgh is not an exception. Students getting involved and initiatives to improve education help provide education for all.

Access to Affordable Public Transportation
I realized that I never really thought about the affordability of public transportation because it’s always part of my tuition and paid for. With rising number of low-income people being pushed out to undesirable living areas, it seems counterintuitive to reduce funding for public transit when it’s needed the most. It’s debatable whether the solution should be alternatives (bikes, electric cars…) or improving the bus system.

Crime Rate / Violence
With gentrification and rise of housing costs, crime rate is also a big problem. Interestingly, police violence has also been brought to attention as a violence problem.


Although each topic was presented separately, already, I can see a lot of connections between the problems, perhaps making this a one big wicked problem. My group got the topic gentrification, which has been commonly talked about over the years in the School of Design. Building on top of the research that has already been done and tracking down where the source of the problem lies seem like the first step. Unlike previous years, however, I think we should in the end, end up working together with the whole class to see the links between each of our assigned topics.

Everything is interconnected and we must map their relations— like a crime wall

Irwin / Ojai Reading

Transition design is the framework within which existing projects can be amplified and connected for greater leverage and identify strategic opportunity for new projects that simultaneously address multiple facets of complex problems

Ojai’s water problem has far worse than anticipated, with the declaration of stage 3 drought, it called for the need of sustainable water use for the future. Ojai reading addresses the importance of recognizing the problem in the current to come up with a solution that, even though may have a delayed feedback, will intervene at the systems-level, influencing the community, city, or even nations in the long term.

The diagrams in the article compared the excessive water usage between western US and the rest of the states, showing almost twice as much water usage in the western states in both agriculture & industry and public & domestic. With the reducing amount of average rainfall, Ojai is constantly under the threat of drought.

Ojai’s water shortage falls under a wicked problem. There are multiple levels of scale that impacts individuals to higher systems such as a city’s economy. It has no single solution and is entangled within other wicked problems such as climate and energy. It has diverse, interdisciplinary stakeholders and requires collaboration among them. Lastly, it is a long-term project that has to be observed for dynamics and shifts.

So to take a stab at solving a complex problem, some of the steps that need to be taken by people of present are:

  1. Map the problem
  2. Backstage to create transition pathways
  3. Envision the future

Ojai reading specifically puts emphasis on envision the future as an important step, by implementing backtracking, defining the future, then working backwards without being limited to the current trends.

In envisioning the future, designers must recognize the importance of people over infrastructures as their leverage points. On e of the key characteristic of systems solutions is that it will benefit all stakeholders. This particularly surprised me, because I’m under the impression that no matter how good the design, it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. The influence of transition design verses what I have thought of design can clearly be differentiated here — that the solutions may not be as simple, but will contribute to positive societal transitions with lasting effects on broad scale. Max Neff’s Theory of Needs (also in Ojai reading) states that all people are motivated by the same finite needs such as the need for sustenance, freedom, identity, etc… but the way they satisfy those needs are dependent on their existing paradigm. Perhaps transition design aims to help stakeholders realize these same finite needs and align their short-term satisfactions with each other in a way that will benefit everyone to accomplish their end goal?

In order to come up with transitioning solutions, we need the tools for it. The tools listed in the Ojai reading help designers as well as people who exist within the system to craft the frame work of transition design: vision — theory of change — posture — new ways of designing — and repeat. These tools include Winterhouse Social Pathway Matrix, Max-Neff’s Theory of Needs, and Socio-Technical System Transitions.

While all tools assist in broadening designers’ vision for looking at the problem-solution in a social change level, the Winterhouse Matrix stuck out to me. By defining the scale of engagement, but also the range of expertise, I was able to see how the diverse stakeholders play their part in the system. Especially with the example of nutrition problem in schools, the links made from school lunch rooms and tray designs to local farmers and city officials really display how a small change in the system permeates through the community at a larger scale and impact a whole established rule.

All in all, I’m excited to put these tools and way of thinking to approach the gentrification problem in Pittsburgh with the rest of my group and see how it evolves.


9/6/17 — Identifying Problems

Over the weekend, my group and I identified some problems that arise with gentrification. We began with collecting relevant research to help define some of the characteristics of gentrification as well as Pittsburgh specific instances. I tried to concentrate more on the opinionated perspectives of gentrification in Pittsburgh — and to my surprise, I found a lot of people (at least, online) found the results/consequences of gentrification to be positive.

Nonetheless, we came together and compiled our research. We wanted to start off with high-level problems and trends such as “Culture and tradition gets eradicated when new population moves in” which lead to questions such as “What is culture?”. Some of the main problems we identified with gentrification are “Segregation between two communities”, “Decrease of affordable housing”, “Minorities feeling attacked”, and “Removing historical culture, along with community from the area”. As we were writing down findings, we noticed some of them chunked together and saw trends that could be categorized.

The categories consist of ‘Economic’, ‘Race/Social’, ‘Political’, ‘Expenditure/Housing’. However, we found that a lot of the points actually didn’t belong to one clear category. For example, “Original(current) residents get neglected in the process of new services being built (for potential revenue)” could belong to both social and economic categories.

This inspired us to create a venn-diagram-like matrixes, where we placed the different findings based on which categories they related to. This exercise helped us understand how a certain problem could be the causal to another and organize the problems as well as some questions we had into bigger chunks, directing us which topics to do more specific research on.


In class, we examined classmates’ organization of their problem-findings. It was interesting to see how each group interpreted the categories and organization differently. Some groups even identified the stakeholders down to pinning down important people and made timeline of the problem progression. Many groups had identified similar problems as we did, especially wicked problems like lack of affordable housing. I can imagine we would collaborate with these groups to find how the two topics affect each other, and what kind of systems solution would satisfy both issues.

Stuart and Stacie talked about how the stickynotes should be able to stand on their own instead of broken words, so a person who had not participated in the discussion would still be able to understand/get info out of them.

My group decided to reword the stickynotes so it’s clear what the problem is. In addition, we wanted to understand why people may not be as concerned about gentrification, or are supporting, by addressing the other side of the problem. Indeed, our stakeholders are not only the people being displaced, but also those who are moving into or staying in Pittsburgh, benefitting from gentrification. For example, property owners are enjoying the price of their property going up, and may be unhappy if this comes to a halt.

We were still very much concentrated on high-level based assumptions about gentrification, which Stuart pointed out could be problematic. The information we had did not give us any new findings that could help us and were not Pittsburgh specific. We had a hard time grasping how ‘zoomed in’ the stickies should be between stating the general problem of gentrification (i.e. low-income people can’t afford rise in house prices) and a specific case within Pittsburgh (i.e. ‘Randyhouse’ is in danger of shut down because the property value went up).

Crit with Stuart

I do agree that we need to do more narrowed down research based on Pittsburgh’s trends in gentrification. As Jasper said, we have the problems written down, but it’s missing verbs and nouns. I think the next steps for us before we start categorizing is to find specific patterns of gentrification that we notice in Pittsburgh rather than as a whole, and think about how this information will help us in crafting a solution/understanding the problem rather than stating things that we know generally about gentrification. For example, instead of saying ‘Big corporation buildings are taking over spaces for small businesses’, we can say something that is common to East Liberty, Lawrenceville or Polish Hill, ‘Tech companies such as Google or Uber are coming into cheap neighborhoods and raising property value around the area for long time, small, family businesses or low income families who can no longer afford their property’.


Capra Reading

Capra reading speaks about the importance of changing our perception and shift our paradigms from the outdated worldview. The world should evolve around the ecological solutions of wicked problems and recognize that humans and the nature all hold intrinsic value, therefor are a network of phenomenon over a hierarchical system. The world’s problem indeed, may be derived off of one single problem — the unwillingness to change out perception with the rapidly changing society, science, technology, etc…

Capra emphasizes the need for our leaders to open their eyes to the consequences of their solutions to problems and strive for a sustainable society.

A sustainable society is a society that satisfies its need without diminishing the prospects for future generations

Indeed, even as my group and I research gentrification in Pittsburgh, we’re recognizing this problem of temporary/short-term solutions that don’t consider sustainable futures. For example, the people who were displaced from Allegheny Dwellings in Northside for new tech buildings to come in, the city officials and offered them voucher for new housing rent, which not many landlords accepted and had strict restrictions. The displaced residents were also given relocation housing that were only available for a few months until they have to find their new place on their own — and even those were scarce compared to the number of people being displaced.

So, indeed, the change of paradigm, or paradigm shift, is necessary in thinking of solutions to problems that have never been completely solved before, so that we can understand the core of the issue from a completely new perspective. This must be done through a whole community, as paradigm is shared between all members. By challenging old assumptions, the new paradigm will offer all community members a holistic worldview.

Capra also defined the difference between holistic and ecological. Holistic view means to look at the whole and recognize the interdependence of separate parts. Ecological view builds on holistic by adding the perception of how something is embedded into the nature and society, where the parts originate and the journey it made to get to the current state. Looking at the world through ecological paradigm will help us see our place in the environment, as a part of nature rather than a dominator.

But maybe it’s not a coincidence that we have put humans above nature in the past, or the old worldview. Many of the issues arising around the globe such as patriarchy, racism, capitalism are based in dominator system. Like recognizing that we must coexist with nature, we must shift our views on social organization from hierarchy to networks.

While I agreed with many of Capra’s insights, I wish she had given more credit to scientists, instead of generalizing them down to life-destroying scientists. Of course, no one can deny that there is still work needed to be done for science to improve to the point of sustainable, preserved nature, but day after day, scientists and the general public are realizing the importance of nature as part of the world’s system them we need to protect in order for us to survive. Scientists play a major role in developing technology and methods to help preserve, or even restore nature. If Capra’s vision of future is a ‘non-hierarchical, but a network society’, we cannot shift the blame on certain professions or groups, nonetheless segregate, as we are all equally responsible for being a part of a big, complex system.


9/11/17 — Defining the Stakeholders

As a second class of lecture, having Terry go over some of the things that we have been blindly doing or materials we’ve read really helped out in understanding where we stand as designers in poking at wicked problems, but moreover, where we should be headed next and what we should expect.

Like Terry pointed out, I noticed that our group was missing a lot of global and regional level information on gentrification, including current policies or the politics behind it. If we went down to the Pittsburgh-specific, lower level last week, it’s time for us to go broad.

“Can we develop a way of representing the problem as it evolves and we constantly add on?”

Throughout the first half of the semester, we will not be done with the problem mapping, but constantly add on as we discover new insight into gentrification.

In addition, in mapping current problems, we have to wonder the chances of them arising from our paradigms. Because our worldviews are full of prejudice, contradiction, and uncertainty (human condition), our biggest single problem may just be our outdated paradigm, and we all really have one common goal — to update and adjust our paradigm to be more sustainable and future-thinking.

I do wonder though, how can we start challenging some of these worldviews? How do we know if our worldviews are wrong? If people have not yet began to recognize it as a problem, it can’t be something as obvious as ‘alcoholism is bad’ or ‘child abuse should be stopped’. How can we train ourselves as designers to see through worldviews and how to be begin to observe and after mapping out the problem, what even is the next step?

While I’m still trying to figure these questions out, I really see the importance of ‘tracing back’ to root causes of wicked problems, or rather, consequences of our rash solutions. Terry’s story of the Comcast call center agent really helped illustrate this example. Although tracing back the problem all the way from cutting employees, maximum profit, to capitalism didn’t solve the problem, addressing it to an insider (the call center agent) and beginning the conversation I think is an important step to help shift paradigm, which would eventually lead to a systems change.

Transition Design = Formal Design + Understanding the Systems + Empathy & Ability to Dance + Design Ethos

Transition is identifying barriers and conflicts between stakeholders. To help everyone recognize that there may be a solution to satisfy everyone, we must detect commonalities in goals between these stakeholders to begin conversations.


9/14/17 — Connecting Stakeholders

After Terry’s lecture on stakeholders, it was time for us to determine our own stakeholders. We identified group such as developers, displaced residents, minorities, city developers, city officials, (new)moving in residents, students, original residents who are not moving out, and small business owners. It was interesting to see other groups identified nonhuman factors such as soil or animals or even social media as stakeholders. I wonder what determines the distinction between what could count as a stakeholder or not. Considering the last reading, the environment around us should also be included in identifying those affected for ecocentric design. However, it confused me when Stuart said soil may be a stretch of a stakeholder for the air quality team. Would the pollutant particles in the air settling into the soil or getting exposed to the water stream that eventually reach the soil not make soil an important stakeholder? Soil quality, on the other hand, also affects the air by influencing different plant growths and releasing gasses into the air.

I wonder if things such as the old Pittsburgh infrastructure, and trees and natural habitat cleared for construction could be stakeholders. In fact, during the construction of Penn Circle, the developers cut down 10 more trees than had been said in the contract, which angered the residents and the city, and been brought to confrontation.

Either way, we chose three main stakeholders: City developers, original/ displaced residents, and new residents. It was difficult for us to come to a conclusion on what their fears and hope may be (especially developers) because we have never been in their shoes. For a stakeholder like city developers, we didn’t clearly understand what exactly their process was in renovating an area, and it was hard to be biased against their intentions in anything other than money. However, given our time and resources, we decided to ‘simulate’ what they might be thinking.

After writing out some of their possible hopes and fears, we identified some of the common points where we can start conversations between groups to work together in finding a solution to gentrification. We also identified opposing goals from the different groups, which will be the most difficult to resolve. Especially when the opposing goals are almost the exact opposite end of the spectrum, such as developers’ “attract development with affluent residents” and original (usually low-income) residents’ “stay in the same housing with same prices”. Should we be looking for a happy medium? Or should we find alternative for one group over the aspiration of the other?


Block and Jungk Reading

Both of the readings talked about the importance of a community coming together to create the vision for the future together. This seems obvious, as the community members are ‘stakeholders’ of such future, which they will have to face in time, but more than often, they are left out in the process. Jungk points out that people are often not allowing their imagination to take a hold of their future vision, because they are discouraged or even taught not to as it may sound ‘ridiculous’.

“When people see themselves as active participants with valued input and are free to ask questions, they will start caring.”

As children, we are encouraged to be imaginative, but as we grow older, the imaginative solutions and ideas we think of are often shut down as being ‘not possible’ or ‘too naive’. Similar phenomenon is observed when a non-professional community member speaks or an issue or a solution to a problem, they are dismissed as not knowledged enough in the matter. This leads to small group of people making decisions for many, and perhaps even the lack of social innovation, as we are constantly stuck in the same framework or social inventions — because everyone is too afraid to speak of their aspirations/visions for the future. This could also explain the heavy emphasis on the lean towards more tangible inventions which lead to materialistic worldview. It’s not a surprise that with such social structure in place, people have a negative vision of the future.

Similarly, we see that a skewed paradigm is also what affects ‘fragmentation of communities’ that Block points out as a problem with the present culture. Our fragmented worldview makes us focus on what we can do as an individual rather than shifting in thinking as a community. We’re caught in the idea that if we change individually, it will eventually influence the community, when the community members should be shifting together. We must create a sense of belonging for all members to create a high social capital, or the quality of relationships that exists among citizens, for the well-being of the community.

This is present in more specific issues like gentrification where the members being displaced or even being disregarded during the renovation process are essentially an example of the the lack of belonging.


9/18/17 — Understanding the Stakeholders

Over the weekend, everyone practiced their skits on stakeholder roles. In Monday’s studio, we acted out these skits and discussed amongst possible stakeholder perspectives.

When writing our skit, we were originally very biased towards developers being money-seeking, unempathetic super powers. Even upon research, most blog posts or articles I ran across that developers wrote mainly talked about maximizing profit over creating a better establishment for the surroundings. However, we did find that developers account for almost the full financial responsibility even if the establishment doesn’t turn out well. Because the architects and related services are contractors, they have a set amount to be paid, unrelated to how successful the establishment is. Which means that their job depends on attracting people who can afford services at a high price.

After watching all the skits I had a few questions as to whether we are very stereotyped against some groups of people, and even hold a sense of superiority over some. In addition, how could we accurately portray these groups when we don’t know how much truth their statements hold? For example, we found a developer’s website for East Liberty saying that they have over-invested in order to create service beyond the market value for the area, encouraging more businesses to thrive. To me, this just sounds like an excuse to bring in wealthy people so the establishment could be successful for profit gains. This could be a challenge because even if developers really only wanted money, they won’t really say so, much like interviewing politicians.


Dator reading

Vision the future that seems impossible — abolition of slavery 
The role of important characteristics in a job but also creativity

Break out of the comfort zone, share your rash ideas even if it sounds ridiculous

Reversing everything from normal to saying anything about a thing except its function

Don’t worry about being an expert

Different people play different roles in creativity

Green hat- brainstorming thinking of new ideas growth

Yellow hat- positivity, feasibility and logical possibility

Red hat- intuition, feelings, passion,

Black hat- caution, critical judgement, legality

White hat- information and data, neutral

Blue hat- outlook, agenda, organized, controlled process

future studies =/= predictive science

“There is no future studies worthy of your attention”

Don’t predict, envision the alternatives. Guide instead of determine

Sound ridiculous, challenge beliefs. Weave evidence and alternate futures in to make it possible

9/20/17 —Design Futures

Stuart continued his lecture on design futures from Monday. Like we learned in Peter’s Futures course, future isn’t a single thing, but multiple possibilities. Often, we think of two scenarios: utopian and dystopian as our options for future, going to the extremes of fantasy. However, I often wonder, where are these images coming from? Are they based on the current trends of society? Surely, in 1980s people thought by 2017 cars would be flying and robots would be serving food in the kitchen.

During class, when we were asked to share our visions of the future, most leaned in the negative scenario, which reveals our paradigm of negative futures. It’s interesting to note the shift in paradigm from 70s’ bright outlook on future and berakthrough inventions in technology — more people describe technology as a force that will constrain humans (or at least take away their freedom to some extent) than something that will provide services.

“Design something thinking about it in the next context”

This quote reminded me of the Pittsburgh water systems. The old, rusty pipes have become a big problem over the years, which is only expected when they are over a hundred years old. I believe that although it may be impossible to see 100 years into the future when designing, but its also important to integrate a way for future generations could change out and update the system.

Because there is no single future, we must think in the context of alternate future‘s’. Stuart gave us the four paradigms for futures — growth, collapse, discipline, and transform to begin thinking about what the future outlook could be based on current trends. It’s interesting how we could shift our paradigms for our future vision with just these basic structures and pick out points in the present to relate to how it could determine a consequence in the future.

For our Pittsburgh 2050 alternative future, we had the collapse scenario. Naturally, we noted the biggest trend in the 21st century which is the rise of tech companies. I wasn’t sure how extreme we could be in considering the degree and reason of collapse. Surely the whole of human race would not be taken over by AI. Another thing that restricted me from going full-out was the year 2050, which is only 33years from now. I had doubts as to the scenario of tech companies taking over the society and even as to creating a technocracy and controlling most goods and services — at least not within 33 years.

However, doubts aside, the 2050 Pittsburgh’s collapse scenario we came up with is heavily tech-based, as they gained political power. The wealth gap is so large as to create a class system, and everything is automated, meaning human-labor jobs are abolished.


Candy Hawaii 2050 Reading

To get a better idea of the scenario assignment, I turned to the Hawaii 2050 reading. It explained the four possible alternate futures in Hawaii: growth, collapse, discipline, and transform — which were labeled with colors to objectively view their desirability.

Orange Hawaii

Main revenue comes from wealthy tourists, which inevitably direct services on the island to accommodate them. Military presence provide Hawaii protection and revenue, while services such as healthcare is privatized. Government is chosen by corporate and education is costly. The growth scenario seems desirable for the wealthy while, it could create gentrification

Silver Hawaii

Financial market crash and public unrest. Military presence and election of a Hawaiian ‘king’. Gasoline prices shoot up and gasoline raids cause unrest within the island. People are evaluated on their physical capability and must go through military training for citizenship. There is not a clear wealth gap, as the economy is more dependent on survival then financial success, and privilege is given to those well deserving who keep watch and protect the island from invasion.

Maroon Hawaii

Simple ways of living and going back to traditional values. People value specialized skill and farming and educations in the liberal arts are considered useless for the most part. Crime has greatly been reduced, public health has increased. Tourisms still exists but only with a few wealthy outsiders, and new buildings are eco-friendly. Rationing makes the wealth gap very small, and natural sources such as solar, wave, wind, geothermal energy power the island.

Blue Hawaii

Human race is no longer ‘human’ race. Augmented humans as well as extraterrestrial now consist of Hawaii’s demographics. Technology has blurred distances and there is no ‘natural earth’ or nature untouched by humans. Intellectual, entertainment, spiritual pursuits are emphasized with no need for human labor and management. Government is no longer geologically bound and replaced with bio-electronic networks. Even those humans who are not augmented use appliances such as sensory implants.

I was surprised to see that the fourth Hawaii scenario resembled ours to a great degree. However, whereas we saw the similar changes as a negativity, the Hawaii scenario takes a positive view on it, and takes it even further, almost as a si-fi movie.


Pittsburgh 2050 Scenario

Economy
The economy in Pittsburgh 2050 is mainly run by the tech companies, with monopolies such as Google, Amazon, and Uber (affiliated with the government) providing restricted consumer goods and services. The same tech powers are also exporting highly intelligent, machine learning APIs to Asian and European countries, which contribute greatly to the national GDP, one of the main reasons behind the rise of Technocracy. As predicted by the S&P 500. — — Blue collar work has become obsolete, leaving the semi-skilled workers to be replaced by automated robots. With majority of people out of jobs and only a small percentage of population working in influential tech companies, births a class-baed society of ‘elites (tech company workers)’ and ‘(jobless lower class). The lower, 90% of the population, rely on universal minimum income support provided by the government(Technocrats) to barely keep them alive. They complain that 95% of the UBI are spent on goods and services privately ran by tech companies every year, leaving them with only 5% to survive on. While the money flow can basically be summarized as Tech companies(Technocrats)>Non-elites (by UBI)>Tech companies (by payment of goods&services), the lower class cannot do anything about this unfair system, as they hold no power in the new tech-run world. In addition, they are now being forced to move into government public housing towards outland near the bodies of water, as the property values of inland began to rise along with the sea level. As powerless as they are however, the lower class gains confidence after The Hack, which caused a 45% drop in the stock market in just 1 month. This helps them implement a barter system amongst themselves and gives them hope that perhaps they could sustain themselves without relying on the tech superpowers they grew to hate. The elites, on the other hand, are only slightly alarmed, as they will soon get the infrastructures backed up and running again with even stronger security. The lower class will surely not be able to survive without their goods and services.


9/25/17 — Pittsburgh 2050

I guess I wasn’t the only one who had questions, as the extent of extremity in future vision was addressed in class. While it may seem impractical, coming up with a scenario that almost seems ‘ridiculous’ allows us to imagine beyond our current paradigms. It’s true that thinking back 40 years, the current technology would have seemed like a far stretch, just within those years, we have even exceeded those visions to some point.

With this, we shared our scenarios with each other, hearing all of the four alternate futures. Surprisingly to the Hawaii scenarios, we also found aspects from other scenarios that aligned with ours, yet portrayed under a positive light.


9/27/17 — Three Horizons

Wow, it’s unbelievably hot in studio. Aside from that, we shared our scenarios again, this time, what we think the most ideal future would be. Although we talked more about the general future rather than focusing on our topic, it seems like everyone in class had a similar view on what the ideal future is. Sustainability, equality, socialism(?), diversity, and reliable technology that humans can control. However, while I have been asking myself whether humans fundamentally have a unified goal, I am also now wondering if it’s because we have all learned or grew up in similar environments that our ideal feature vision are composed of the same elements. In addition, could this even be because we are more educated on this matter that we hold the ‘right’ vision of the future and there would be disparity if the same exercise would have been done with a group of people without transition design education, it could have looked very different.

We actually discussed amongst our group about how the US election accurately sums up the general thoughts of the public. As much as I would hate to voice my political opinions, the fact that President Trump has been elected shows a lot about the general public’s view on racism, sexism, foreign affairs, and environmental issues. Thus, is the ‘progressive future’ we are rooting for even possible when our vision may only reflect only a small percentage of what the public thinks? Not even the general public — if we were to do the same exercise is a conservative college, the ideal future would have been very different. So who is right? Am I wrong to think that my ideal future is the progressive ideal future, because I may just represent one perspective out of billions?

Nonetheless, figuring out the in between steps, or backtracking is important for any kind of future, so we continued with our diagrams. It was difficult to figure out concrete milestones that would accomplish our future vision, because many of them involved solving complex problems, which for decades, have been attempted at but never resolved. I suppose our next steps are trying to take baby steps towards these problems?

Trying to think about the core of the problem was really helpful. For example, we discussed how there is a class difference and minorities feel segregated because wealth is related to power.


The three horizons reading reiterated Stuart’s lecture on the three horizons. The framework contains three trends in which: should be let go for the ideal future, what to continue doing, and what should be innovated(what does not exist now that is needed)

It was a bit difficult to get a hold of the concept of something ‘fitting’ but growing out of that fit in the future. Does it mean an old paradigm that no longer holds as the world changes? I’m also confused as to if the three horizons mean trends that need to happen for the ideal future, or if they represent the different visions of future.

From my understanding, the three horizons help us think about how we can achieve the ideal future in different perspectives. While H1 (our current way of things) hold some conservable values, much change is needed. In order to settle the conflicts arising from changes, H2 finds a ‘happy medium’ in keeping the old ways and implementing the new ways. H3 is the high vision that transform and innovate the society, and may not be completely viable, but have to be merged with some version of H1 and how H2 mixes H1 with H3.

Things are still very abstract, and I don’t think I understand fully (or correctly) of what the horizons do/are. I hope these concepts are cleared up in the future classes, as it’s very hard for me to relate all this back to how it matters to us when I don’t understand what they are. I wish there would be more concrete examples or anecdotes in which these concepts are illustrated, as I am more of a visual/example-based learner.


10/2/17 — More Than Just a Timeline

Over the weekend, we worked to create a timeline of events and ideal shifts that would lead to our future scenario.

We focused on what specific happenings lead to the change in the way people think and how potential future changes also came with a protection policy/methods to help with those who may be harmed by the changes.

Since we were not entirely sure on how the events will be distributed along the timeline (although most was based on assumptions), we decided to use sticky notes for milestones.

In addition, to address our wicked problem, gentrification, we tied back how each event/sticky note was connected. We tried color coding the stickies so that they indicate events(physical?), shift in public’s perspective (abstract), and a possible related artifact.

What we discussed is that observing the response to previous major events, it’s probably going to take a very big, shocking tragedy to shift everyone’s paradigm and actually implement changes. I felt a little skeptical about our approach, because it seemed very extreme, such as “87 children die from snow storm in October (pointing out extreme weather conditions that transforms people’s view on climate change).”

Nonetheless, I don’t think it can be argued that a radical change is needed for a paradigm shift that would eventually lead to policies and services to be developed around it.

Our main paradigm shifts were:

  • Wealth or level of income no longer represents power
  • People (including most politicians) are concerned about climate change
  • The whole country work towards desegregation and income equality
  • Mixed income neighborhoods are proved to be effective, positively accepted and government supported

For Monday’s class we prepared different artifacts that are from different points of our timeline. I created a newspaper from 2029 when people’s focus was on climate change due to extreme weather conditions that produced major casualties, including leaders of the country.

I tried to incorporate other events that the viewer could refer to as a build up of why the paradigm shift happened — such as relating back the government snow-in to the snow storm few years ago that killed children, and how the victims are responding in response, and the increasing frustration and concern from the public that eventually lead the whole nation to shift towards considering the problems. In addition, I tried to further the scope by including what the different perspectives were on the issue (i.e. what the scientists are saying), and other issues going on at the time (Civil Rights) that hint at the coming event in the future down the timeline (Civil Rights Movement and Warren Buffet’s contribution).

During class, we evaluated each groups’ timeline and artifacts. I think an aspect that our team missed was visual representation. The group that was voted to have the best timeline (Affordable housing) had a lot of graphical aid to help viewers visualize each point in the sticky note. Although the pictures weren’t highly detailed or explanatory, the simple google images showed vision for future inventions and made everything seem more believable. Terry explained the importance of visuals in helping to understand, especially in presenting to clients who may not have followed designers though the entire process. In addition, the clear distinction of color use made the timeline more purposeful and informative.

Another thing that we may want to pay attention to is neatness and consistency, as it determined whether the viewer decided/wanted to engage with the timeline or not. Though, I wish we talked more about the content of the timelines I think going over the presentation aspect helped us see that the process is part of transition design.

I appreciated that someone pointed out how the news reports help the artifact seem real, because I did spend a considerable amount of time on trying to make the stories seem realistic. It was difficult to depict the change in people’s minds that happened so suddenly, because it’s ‘too good to be true’, so I paid attention to showing paradigm shift with certain amount of doubt.

For next class, we have to use Max Neef’s synergistic satisfiers and find two items that satisfy and inhibits satisfiers and one item that mostly satisfies with no consequences. Going back to the second reading, Max Neef’s theory stated that all human beings have the same satisfaction that need to be met, and the only difference is the way people relieve their need to satisfy.


10/4/17 — Satisfy or Not to Satisfy?

For my first object, I chose my dorm room. This was something I actually thought about a lot before deciding to live in the dorms rather than off campus. Its main satisfier is substinence, as in providing shelter. However, there are other satisfiers and consequences that are associated with living in the dorm room (as seen above).

I had a harder time trying to find something that has little, if not no consequences. In the end I chose video call as something that doesn’t have consequences (at least compared to its satisfiers). Its main needs satisfied is understanding and affection, connecting people from far away for people who moved far away. However, revisiting the exercise, I now realize that there are multiple problems that arise from video calls such as internet predators or invasion of privacy or even spread of hate.

We walked around, looking at everyone’s in class, and one thing that I didn’t try out was to represent how one satisfier or consequence might be connected to another. I also liked that some people used very controversial designed artifact like a gun that had both protection satisfied and protection inhibited, which made me really think about the double sidedness of a design.

The class lecture on shifting from ‘human-centered design’ to ‘all-life-centered design’ put emphasis on the need for us to move away from just humans as stakeholders but all other factors that may be affected by design such as nature and environment (thus, sustainable design).

The next part was to put Max Neef’s synergic satisfiers into application for our wicked problems.


10/9/17 — Taking a Stab at Possible Interventions

Over the weekend, we completed/polished our application Max Neef’s needs on gentrification. Since it is such a big social problem, we could find satisfier (both satisfy and inhibitor) in almost every category. We were a bit confused on whether we should be talking about satisfier for the people who are displaced from gentrification or people who are moving in/for gentrification, so we decided to include both, which actually helped us with finding common satisfiers between the two groups.

Next, we grouped them into categories to identify main overarching problem we could start intervening for. I took housing security as it is one of the biggest issue for old residents as they are displaced against their will with no protection, making them feel disrespected and powerless.

I concentrated on having the residents more involved in the development process so that they are included in renovating the community and finding a place of agreement with developers and city officials, which will in turn make them more welcoming of those who move in.

After organizing them into one chart, we added visuals to help understand what the interventions would look like. I had the same topic as Jake, and after discussing, we agreed that his intervention would be more realistic, as having an agreement to not raise rent for a set amount of years would only be a short term solution.


During studio, we held a workshop on service design in which we created a concept for a music sharing app. Although I wish we had more time to talk about it, talking about the actors in designing such services was really helpful. I remember doing a similar workshop during my internship where we had to identify the service flow and backstage and front stage actors involved in each step. It’s really interesting to think about how many ‘actors’ play a part in a service, especially when all we’ve been designing thus far has been heavily based on design to user interaction only.

I think this workshop will help us a lot in our interventions, because most of our interventions ended up being policy or service related.


10/11/17 — Deep Diving into Interventions

Today in class, we presented our interventions to the class. Stacie said to pay attention to other groups’ intervention, as we will start to notice patterns in how the wicked problems interact with each other, such as affordable housing and gentrification.

We noticed that everyone had almost a fully polished idea of their intervention products, but we were not sure if we wanted to be at that level of detailed intervention yet. I think it might be better to stay at a more flexible state at the moment than to jump to solid products before fully conceptualizing and setting our goals for the solutions.


11/1/17 — Previously in Senior Studio

I’ve really been generally confused and cynical about studio and transition design in the past few weeks and couldn’t get myself to catch up on Medium, so I think I should briefly recap.

We talked a lot about approaching the design solution and what the final deliverable would be in studio. It seemed like what our final product would be would serve more of the ‘viewers’ than ‘users’. I was generally unhappy that we seemed to focus more on presenting our transition design work rather than implementing or actually solving the problem. But then again, how would we be able to solve any of these wicked problems that people have been trying to solve for years when we don’t even have on-field research, if not simply talking to the stakeholders? I was especially impressed when Cheryl came in and shared with us her work. She had worked on a safe, accessible pregnancy delivery kit for women in (I actually forgot which country it was)but in their culture, it was common to use a coin to cut the umbilical cord for a good future of the child. Thus, in the pregnancy kit, there was a sterile replica of a coin with a sharp edge so that the tradition is still kept while they use a safer, more modern method. This kind of cultural consideration and thoughtful, unobtrusive intervention is what I think transition design should do. But would it be possible without getting to know the culture around the problem first?

This, along with the very abstract, seemingly similar lectures really disengaged me from studio. I participated in diagramming out our program but didn’t see how each of them worked together to help us lead to a solution.


We talked a bit of solutionism, the belief that technology could be the benign solution to all problems. Which I think a lot of us default to. Even looking at our previous studio project, many of them are based on apps or involve apps, or some sort of technology that will solve the problem. But I think it’s good to question whether if this really is the right type of intervention for the audience or environment a solution will exist in.


We got a chance to look at other groups’ potential solutions and how each mapped to different topics in class. Like all the other groups we also though of different service and social innovation solutions that could potentially help a community realize its gentrification problems.

Improve communication between residents-to-policy makers & residents-to-business regarding events, etc… letting everyone from community have a say in the community development first and then talking to professionals to figure out logistics of proposal from different residents.

This was one of the social innovation ideas I voted for because I think the core of gentrification lies in miscommunication and general disregard for considering all members of community. If respect for input from the majority of that community is established and residents’ voices are heard, there could be a successful combination of bettering the community for newer residents and preserving the community the old residents love.

It was interesting to see how each group mapped their service and social innovation solutions to different topics. Some of them, I could make connection back to gentrification while the group didn’t map the solution back to gentrification, and vise versa. I’m excited to connect some of these wicked problems that we have been saying are ‘interconnected’ together finally.

Some of the topic I was interested in working with are housing, air quality, education, transportation and food .


Next step was to actually find the subgroups that were interested in the same topic as you to work with. I still wanted to work with gentrification because I’ve already done a lot of research and I think it really is a major problem in Pittsburgh that should be explored more than it is already. It closely relates back to housing, as displacement was a big issue, and I was touched with personal stories I’ve read about families and individuals who were displaced from their houses without an appropriate alternative (Penn Circle Apartments). This is why I decided to join the micro-loans group with Natalie Harmon, Chris Perry, and Jasper Tom.

Our focus was on micro-loans, a small loan given to lower-income people, usually by non-profit company that serves to give that little financial support for people to launch their businesses. Often, people in the lower-income status have bad credit, making it difficult to take out loans from banks. Micro-loans serve a similar role with less barrier to entry with not big enough loan amount to become a burden. Unlike conventional loans, micro lenders also offer business counseling and guidance so that business owners who took out loans could succeed and pay back their loans.

Applying this concept to mortgage, people would take out small amounts of loans from non-profits and use it towards paying for their downpayment to encourage house ownership and give them a financial boost. As a result of owning a house, residents would gain more control over their homes and displacement, as they have the rights to stand up for their property in threat of gentrification.


In discussing our interventions, we realized that we really don’t know much about mortgage or loans. And because we’ve never talked to our stakeholders, we don’t know what their stance is on mortgage and what type of /how they pay their mortgages. We did some research online, and the types of loans could be summarized into categories —

Micro-loans: Small loans to help start businesses, which lenders will have no pressure paying back, because business will likely succeed with counseling and help offered by non-profit.

Micro-mortgage: Small loans to help low-income homeowners repair/improve their homes or even build new homes. They are unsecured with flexible term ranges.

Micro-financing: An umbrella term for banking services offered to low-income or unemployed people ranging from business loans to educational services. Traditional bank services would be difficult to acquire for low-income people with bad credit, as they often don’t meet the requirements.

In our research, we found out about shared equity model and how it could be applied to housing. Basically, a house under the help of shared equity loans will have its property value paid partially by the buyer (say, 5%) and the remainder through a combination of mortgage equity loan (equity loan can go up to 20%). Although houses are funded this way, the house buyer still owns 100% of the house from the beginning. When the homeowner is reselling the house, however much percentage of your house was funded through equity loans would have to be paid back to the loan organization. This paid back amount could be bigger or smaller than the original loan amount depending on whether the property value went up or down.