Design Research Studio: Access to Clean Air

8.28.17 —
Class One: The Beginning
“Strive to be a ‘T’ shaped designer — with depth and breadth.
— Terry Irwin

Today marks the last first day of CMU undergrad, and it was a great one — Another day filled with inspiration to instill in me a tireless sense of wonder.

I’m very excited to be working with Stacie Rohrback, Stuart Candy, and Terry Irwin this semester. Our professors are three remarkable designers who are experts in their specialties that come from vastly different backgrounds (graphic/pedagogic; futurist/experiential; graphic/transitional), but all of whom are brought together with a common, unique intention to guide and teach us about the power of design. They want to direct us beyond just the deep end of the ‘T’, but to help us recognize when we should float to the top of the ‘T’ and humbly acquire some breadth.

We’ve been practicing design for three years. We’re alright, but we need many, many years of experience to be great, and maybe one day, become expert. But there’s something much more crucial in this very moment for us to think about — How do we use the skills we’ve acquired to make the world a more livable and desirable place, and to tackle the widely prevalent and deeply-rooted wicked problems?

Terry gave us a brief recollection of the new design program. The way I see it, the new curriculum frames design like an onion. The core comprises the specific tracks — it teaches us the depth of the ‘T’, with environment being in a broader scope that brings products and communication together; these three tracks then exist together in the social innovation space, and together, exist in the space of what’s called transition design.

“Transition design brings together new knowledge and skillsets aimed at seeding and catalyzing systems-level of change. The framework is comprised of four mutually-influencing, co-evolving ideas and areas of knowledge and skillset.” — T.I.

From there on, Terry’s presentation went in depth about how design can be a strategy that plays a significant role in the solution-making process of various practices. Designers need to know a little bit of everything, but assume that they know nothing. We need to retain a humble mindset that keeps from judgment and assumptions, and we need to be patient. We need to ask lots of questions, and think in long-term effects, and truly embrace the mindset of “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out!” — the excitement and potential of uncertainty.

The humble mindset that Terry mentioned really stood out to me. The example she gave was of the BP oil spill, where the company dumped chemicals into the ocean to wipe away the evidence of oil. The oil was bad. The chemicals were worse; ecosystems were broken, and the problem became a lot more permanent because the spilled oil had sunk into the ocean floor.

This example was strongly reminiscent of the Precautionary Principle that I’d learned about in IB Biology, it states:

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.” — Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998

In other words, under no circumstances should an activity be permitted until it is proven not harmful to human health or the environment.

While the above is directly applicable to scientists (but not always reinforced), we as designers should bear the same mindset. The product of our creation is often a roadmap to a ‘solution’ — but what does that mean? How will that solution play out 5 years later? 10 years? 7 generations later? Who are the stakeholders, and how would each of them be affected? What if there are conflicts in interest? What are the contexts in which these stakeholders exist? What are the broader contexts where these contexts exist in? These are all examples of problems that need to be considered. And that’s only scratching the surface.

Too often do we rest cosily in our comfort zone with other designers. Too often do we solely try to hone on our own desired skillsets. As a goal for myself this semester, I will learn to relish the process of digging deeper, to get comfortable with uncertain answers, and to be slow to conclude — to sit back, observe, then design.

“Design the initial conditions, not an interference.” — T.I.


8.31.17 — 
Class Two

Today, I discovered how much I don’t know about Pittsburgh.

We played a game of Kahoot about Pittsburgh trivia and my team…well, we guessed 3/4 of our answers. But that’s okay — because we can only go up from here. We’ve really got to embrace that “no, we don’t know…but we’ll figure it out!” mentality that Terry talked about.

9.3.17 — 
Meadows & Irwin Readings

Some salient points from Meadows’ piece:

“Leverage points: places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.”
— D. Meadows (1999)
  1. Power, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, is not about pushing over leverage points, but about letting go (transcending paradigms);
  2. Shifting paradigms requires shifting multiple co-existing systems;
  3. Changing a paradigm demands understanding a paradigm — meaning long-term and critically attentive observation;
  4. Systems-level change will not come unless the systems want it;
  5. Transition is only one part of the solution, prolonged only through maintenance;

With these points in mind, we will move forward with the conviction that change can be made, but also with a patient understanding that this change may require a long period of time to unfold.

Some thoughts from Terry’s Ojai presentation:

  • Changing someone’s beliefs will change his or her attitude, consequently his or her practices and behaviours — this is how you can change someone’s lifestyle.
  • Envisioning what the desired future will be like is the first step to getting there
  • Backcasting (Robinson 1982) — defining desirable future then ‘backcasting’ to the present to create a transition pathway, steps used to link the present to the desired future; opposite of forecasting
  • Forecasting: what futures are likely to happen; backcasting: how desirable future can be attained
“Designers are good at bridging the gap between proposed solutions and users (stakeholders) and work at the intersection of viability, feasibility, and desirability.”
— Terry Irwin

Four useful Transition Design Tools —

  • Transition Design Framework:
vision, theories, mindset, methods— action — self-reflection
  • Winterhouse Social Pathways Matrix:
scale+scope — cross-sector teams — multiple levels of scale
  • Max-Neef’s Theory of Needs
  • Socio-Technical Transitions Multi-Level Pathways (MLP)

These readings have been a good source of ideas in terms of how we should start framing our wicked problem. In understanding the complexity of what we’re working with, I think it’s important to start with the basics in observing the things around us, then move to a higher level of scale from there.

Starting from things around us…We’ve observed that there’s a Breathe Lab in the form of a truck parked right outside Margaret Morrison. We’ll be checking that out in a bit. Since air quality is a relatively unfamiliar territory, we’re also thinking about consulting the experts we have at hand — CMU’s very own air quality engineers (precisely professors Peter Adams and Constantine Samaras) from the civil engineering department. We’ll be reaching out to them shortly, and hopefully they will respond with a “grumpy optimism” to collaborate.

9.6.17 — 
Class Three

Observe + Absorb:

some quick thoughts
- affinity clustering vs. filling in categories
- timeline organization
- geographical mapping
- illustration / visualization
- using MURAL
- relating our position / role / assumptions to stakeholders

“Make colours intentional, otherwise it’s just noise.”
“If the post-it makes me ask more questions than helps me understand the problem, then it might have to be defined more clearly, in the appropriate granularity.”


  • defining the problem(s)
  • timeline
  • geographical mapping of issues
  • relationship of stakeholders + power
  • STEEP Analysis: social — technological+infrastructure— economic — environmental — political
  • CAPRA readings

Personal Notes:

  • research how other cities have dealt with air pollution (Beijing, London, etc.)
  • sketch / print out map of Pittsburgh

9.7.17 — 
M: Carpa Readings

All problems stem from the same, singular crisis — the crisis of perception.

“Social paradigm: A constellation of concepts, values, perceptions, and practices shared by a community, which forms a particular vision of reality that is the basis of the way the community organizes itself.”
— Fritjof Carpa

Carpa’s reference to the link between psychology and ecology reminds me strongly of the philosophy behind Shintoism:

Shinto does not split the universe into a natural physical world and a supernatural transcendent world. It regards everything as part of a single unified creation. Shinto also does not make the Western division between body and spirit — even spirit beings exist in the same world as human beings. (

It is a strong reminder to me of why Japan is a nation that has so successfully integrated natural and artificial elements into its culture — they have a deep-rooted respect for nature. It is a reverence instilled in them at a young age, since their upbringing, and is reflected in every aspect of the culture.

Take, for instance, the art of paper-making — the making of washi — may take days, and possibly weeks or months to produce, as the traditional craft demands for the raw material to be processed in a way so its original quality is not compromised, and that its full potential is retained.

My personal belief is that much of Western culture is built upon a drive through imbalance, which causes constant change. While this may create an exciting and thrilling sense of progress, it’s hard to say whether such progress can last. On the other hand, much of Asian culture — through thousands of years of trial — has survived in its legacy of emphasis in harmony: a philosophy built upon balance, and respect.

deep ecology — social ecology — ecofeminism

I think it’s tragic that it took the Western world so long to figure out a philosophy that existed in Asian culture since recorded time — since ancient Confucian texts, but also deeply ironic and disconcerting that Asian culture has abandoned its roots to imitate Western culture, in search for progress. I suppose progress is enticing, after all — Who doesn’t want to jump in on the money and fame that progress can bring? But the consequences will follow, and perhaps only then will we look back and realize, “what a big mistake we’ve made.” But better late then never, right?

“A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.”
— Lester Brown, Worldwatch Institute
9.7.17 — 
Th: Affinity Clustering

As a team, we came together and reorganized the groupings and hierarchies for the affinity clustering, here’s what we came up with:

9.11.17 — 
M: Class Four

Today, Terry presented the Ojai project to us, and how she approached the wicked problem based on conversations with the many, many stakeholders.

“We see what we expect to see” — T.

The water shortage in Ojai is a long-term wicked problem that requires breaking down a highly complex, high level system. This system involves stakeholders at every level of context (from organizational to personal), with very different motives and interests — often times causing conflict between groups.

“Dance with uncertainty.” — T.

As designers, our role is to observe, facilitate, and encourage communication among the different stakeholders involved — trying to empathize, understand perspective, and hopefully ultimately coming up with solutions (and a long-term, evolving roadmap) as to what might/might not work.

“Do what you’re supposed to do, but more.” — T.

“Stakeholder relations are the ‘connective tissues’ within wicked problems.” That’s why facilitating conversation between different stakeholders is so important — we reveal to them perspectives that they may not have otherwise considered. The next step for our Affinity Clustering will be to identify the links between the different stakeholders — OPPOSING/CONFLICTING (to resolve) and AFFINITY/ALIGNMENT (to leverage).

9.11.17 — 
W: Class Five

We decided on 3 personas to focus on, who have different interests:

  1. City budget planners
  2. Climate change activists
  3. Factory workers

Some general concerns that we came up with:

We then split into pairs within our group of 6, and came up with [hopes + aspirations] and [concerns + fears] for the 3 personas.

JeongMin and I worked on climate change activists.
In class, we made a short skit of our personas discussing issues we’re concerned with.

Our final board:

We then took a stab at seeing opportunities in points of leverage (affinity) and points of resolution (opposition) between the different post-its — to be continued…

This exercise is only a small snapshot of what needs to happen in order for us to realize that issues that manifest in the micro-levels including conflicts between individuals’ interest is a product of all the higher level structures. From seeing these micro-tensions and similarities, we can climb up the tiers of contextual granularity and find opportunities — leverage points.

“…But participants soon come to realize that their problems are linked to more far-reaching conditions nationally and internationally and may often be prompted to pursue these further…” — Jungk, in reference to his Future Workshops

9.14.17 — 
Th : Jungk — Future Workshops (How to Create Desirable Futures)
* all featured quotes are from author named above unless otherwise stated

Jungk comes from a very interesting background that shed light to him early on about planning for desirable futures. Having been a victim under Hitler’s regime, he had firsthand experience of a dystopian world. “Powerlessness” was the word he used to describe his feeling at the time. There was nothing he could do; control was non-existent. How terrifying is that? Yet, he did not give up resisting to what he believed was wrong.

“It is essential for people to now what they are fighting for, not just what they are fighting against.”

He mentions in the writings that “resistance to the steady dehumanization of our lives is growing,” which I speculate is a result of increased transparency and accessibility to information, consequently increasing individuals’ intellectual autonomy.

“One of the reasons for the much deplore inhumanity of ‘progress’ is no doubt the fact that a small group of highly ambitious, articulate and motivated people make commitments on behalf of the many, whose needs and expectations are more down to earth.”

Coming back to the sense of “powerlessness,” even though Hitler’s reign of terror has been over for a while, the “hostility of our social environment to anything from the realm of the imagination” is very much prevalent today. Our attitude to shame and guilt creativity — especially those of lower social status — endangers our society because it instills fear and powerlessness (lack of confidence and esteem) for people to participate in the process of solution-ing; yet, often times, they are the ones who are most able to provide salient knowledge from experiences.

“Since the end of the 60s, Western sociologists have unanimously concluded from their many investigations that among the public at large there is a great desire for ‘non-material values’.”

It is so interesting to me that while today’s society is in constant pursuit of material goods, many of those who attain it still feel rather empty. I have this discussion with my parents a lot — that there are two types of food that a human needs: physical fulfillment and spiritual nourishment, the latter of which is substantially more important in making us ‘human’. Just because a person is alive doesn’t mean he or she is living. When a human is spiritually and emotionally depraved, he or she will struggle to orient in the world. This is why it is so important to enable people of all classes and social groups to access spiritual nourishment — for intellectual engagement, and the freedom to express and think creatively.

“But comparable innovations in the field of community and social institutions are pitifully few. There is a lack of ‘social inventions’ and too few ‘social innovations’.”

Being at one of the epicenters of technological advancement, I’ve consistently seen technological ‘progress’ and ‘achievement’ pushed to new heights at the incredible institution that is Carnegie Mellon. It’s really ecstatic to see new discoveries in such a novel domain, once again proving the prowess of human capability. However, social innovations lag significantly compared to technological developments, causing a drastic disparity between the machines’ abilities and humans’ abilities to co-exist with them symbiotically. It is evident even in the fact that the social science majors are implicitly mocked by the engineers — and that’s a phenomenon not exclusive to CMU. I’ve observed it in much of America, and in Asia. It’s a social construct that needs much undermining and transitioning.

9.18.17 — 
M : Dator — Caring for Future Generations
* all featured quotes are from author named above unless otherwise stated
“In the past, the best we could expect to do for our children was to pass on to them the wisdom of our ancestors just as we have received it from our parents and they from their parents before them.”

It’s really interesting that for as long as history has been recorded, the world has basically been occupied by a population of traditionalists — people of various cultures who passed down their own practices and belief systems down the lineage — because things have always worked that way. However, from the way I see it, we’re at a pivotal point in history where solely preserving the traditionalist mindset will not increase sustainability. It’s going to take a lot of willingness to change, and willingness to risk, to make that crucial shift towards a sustainable future happen.

“By ‘future generations’ we do not mean our own children and grandchildren….by ‘future generations,’ we mean all future life, everywhere, and forever — from here to eternity. And not just human life, but all future life of all kinds.”

In today’s skit session, Lily and Kate were in the personas of factory workers — stakeholders that had a conflicting agenda than JeongMin and I, who were climate change activists. Towards the end, when all the stakeholders were discussing together, Lily brought up a point, “we’re doing this for our son.” While I responded with “well, your son is just one of many, and we need to think for the futures of many,” it got me thinking about something else; even if she could keep her ‘son’ alive now, what would it mean if all other things that sustain his life has wilted?

“There will be a time for showing why the bright idea will fail, that it needs data no one has, or that you don’t like it under any circumstances. Just wait until the appropriate time comes.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-6
“There is a time for everything…
a time to search and a time to give up,
 a time to keep and a time to throw away,”

Be bold — pursue the idea — be willing to take a risk, take a chance and run with it!

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”
— Marshall McLuhan

Our interactions with AI?

9.18.17 — 
M : Post-representation skits + Stuart Candy’s What’s Next?

“It was uncomfortable to watch the skits of representations based on assumptions…” — a shared sentiment, especially given that we’d just talked about the dangers of making assumptions. However, in spite of these stirring feelings, good conversations and realizations surfaced.

Haiku about “a day in my life in 2047”:

“My alarm goes beep
Another day just working
Don’t wanna get up.”

Haiku about “my community in 2047”:

“Where are the bird chirps?
I grew up listening to
Silent in their graves.”

9.20.17 — 
W: Block — The Structure of Belonging
* all featured quotes are from author named above unless otherwise stated

There was so much I resonated with this reading. (Even though I am very well aware that I mixed up the order of the readings, as I should’ve read this and not Dator for Monday).

“If it is true that we are creating this world, then each of us has the power to heal its woundedness.”

I believe that every one of us, in our world today, must be and feel entitled to be part of the solution, and contribute towards it as one unit.

“…The word belong has two meanings. First…is to be related to and a part of something…it is the opposite of thinking that wherever I am, I would be better off somewhere else….The second meaning…is to act as a creator and co-owner of that community…it means fostering among all of a community’s citizens a sense of ownership and accountability.”
“The absence of belonging is so widespread that we might say we are living in an age of isolation.”
“To feel a sense of belonging is important because it will lead us from conversations about safety and comfort to other conversations, such as our relatedness and willingness to provide hospitality and generosity.”
“…community health, educational achievement, local economic strength, and other measures of community well-being were dependent on the level of social capital that exists in a community — the quality of the relationships, the cohesion that exists among citizens.”

9.30.17 — 
Sat: Wahl —The Three Horizons of innovation and culture change
This graphic is not in the book chapter this excerpt is taken from. Source: H3Uni
“The ‘Three Horizons’ framework is a foresight tool that can help us to structure our thinking about the future in ways that spark innovation. It describes three patterns or ways of doing things and how their relative prevalence and interactions evolve over time. The change from the established pattern of the first horizon to the emergence of fundamentally new patters in the third occurs via the transition activity of the second horizon.”

The Three Horizons Framework are supported by the consideration of possible, probable and desirable futures. Horizon 1 prompts us to think about the likely paths of current trends, whereas Horizon 3 encourages us to think about the desirable traits we’d like to see in an idealistic future. Horizon 2 is where transition design is most heavily emphasized, as it deals heavily with a set of assumptions. It is through Horizon 2 that we can start to define what potential leverage points are, by figuring out what needs to happen more and what needs to be increasingly avoided in order for society to move toward the desirable future that we hope for.
“The bridge between H1 and H3 is constructed by paying discerning attention to the space of innovation and the period of transition that is opened up by the second horizon. The H2 perspective sees opportunities in the shortcomings of H1 and aims to ground the visionary possibilities of the third horizon with some practical next steps.”

10.1.17 — 
Sun: Backcasting the Futures of 2050
10.9.17 — 
Sun: Defining Potential Pros and Consequences for Interventions
10.9.17 — 
Mon: Service Design Concept Presentation

Molly Steenson gave us a very insightful presentation on service design. From a designer’s perspective, service design is all about making sure that both the front and back end of the “stage” are functioning smoothly. While the front of the stage represents everything that clients directly interact with, the backstage is everything that needs to take place but are hidden from view.

Hear Here — a geotag music sharing app that enables users to contribute to location specific collaborative playlists. Local artists and bands can pay to have their songs played as the first song for 50 different users.

10.11.17 — 
Wed: Discussing Concept Interventions
  • think about the intervention as a “seed” for a larger movement, in a longer period of time
  • need paradigm shift in idea of capitalism — monetary profit should not be the only reason that drives us
  • realize the unfeasibility of complete resolution with these projects
  • consider these ideas as proposals, hypotheses, that can be tested at a later point; it would take a long time to get to a place of alignment (multi-year, multi-layer)

Affordable Housing

  • Adopt skills and mindset for affordable housing


  • Visit environments nearby in order to learn
  • Pop-up shops: local businesses funded by government to learn life skills


  • Update rehab services — current systems are flawed because greater payment means better service, leading to many people trying to fall out and get back into the service again and again


  • Crowdsourced Autonomous Food Rescue
  • Awareness of Corporations
  • The Garden Initiative
  • On-Demand Pantry Delivery


  • Mixed housing — lower income & higher income residents to live together; open conversation between them, involve participation from all parties
  • Restructuring Education — discuss salient topics, inform students to think critically about these issues early on


  • “Life Day” — government sanctioned holiday, celebrate environment, show solidarity disasters that have happened in the past
  • Life-centered education
  • Legislation to drive independent vehicle on fewer days
“It’s not about the originality of the idea, but how it’s framed in the context”

10.15.17 — 
Sun: Concept Intervention Scenarios

Working with Kate Martin & Lily Fulop;

Our class’ teams of six were divided into two groups of three. Each group was asked to select one of the team’s intervention proposals that requires service design. We were then asked to develop a scenario, identifying some key touch points and describing the front stage and back stage actors.

Air Quality Improves with New City Approaches

Air quality is directly affected by toxic emissions, which are majorly the result of human activity. Over the years, Pittsburgh neighborhoods have transitioned into walking cities due to an increase in population; with the close proximity of local businesses, personal transportation is no longer necessary.

The Pittsburgh walking cities’ ordinances halted the production of new plastic, requiring that all local stores only provide shoppers with reusable bags; this law aims to significantly decrease air pollution.

Reusable Bag Recycling Service

In response to the cities’ law, a reusable bag recycling service is now provided at all retail shops.

Grocery stores, such as Kroger and Giant Eagle, have welcomed the change, realizing that their traditional services could be improved with a new approach.

At the store checkout, baggers package goods in reusable totes, and shoppers carry their groceries home. After use, individuals can leave the totes in front of their homes; the totes are then picked up by a collection service, comprised of community members who are low-income and qualify for meal programs. In exchange for returning the totes to stores, the collection service workers are provided with hot meals, or if they prefer, they can receive grocery store reward points and coupons.

Because of the program’s popularity, many of these establishments are putting funds toward developing additions to their store’s layout. This is especially true for those partnering with food pantries. Those stores plan to use the canned food donations to make meals for the tote collection service workers; during the holiday season, stores distribute the canned food among the community members who need it most.

During the first few introductory weeks of the tote collection service, retail stores quickly learned that although the concept is healthier for the environment, shoppers neglect their duty to leave totes out for collection or return totes to the stores themselves — reducing the total number of reusable totes available.

Therefore, retail businesses now require bag identification numbers on shoppers’ store advantage cards. The businesses collect data to keep track of the number of totes each shopper borrows.

In addition, the stores have barcodes printed on each reusable tote; this way, stores can identify if the totes borrowed are the same ones being returned.

Some shoppers still will forget to put totes out for collection or personally return them to the store. After shopping, these individuals receive their receipt, which lists their transactions and also the number of totes checked out. For this purchase, the shopper does not receive any credit with their advantages card; instead, the amount that could have been saved on groceries for returning the totes is listed. If the same totes are not returned by or collected from a shopper by a certain date, the shopper is fined.

The vast majority of shoppers, however, remember to return or bring the reusable totes to the store. These individuals earn coupons and grocery store reward points on their advantage card, saving money on their future purchases.

Shoppers may also donate canned foods and reusable totes to earn additional grocery store reward points.

Lastly, due to the concern for shoppers’ health, stores clean the totes periodically; once a month during closed store hours, quality control workers review tote condition, sanitizing most bags and replacing some as needed.

With this in mind, stores request that shoppers maintain totes in the condition received, since all community members use them; however, if the totes are returned in poor condition, the respective shopper’s account is flagged with “Bad Bag” and the shopper is asked to pay a “Cleaning & Replacement” fee.

10.15.17 — 
Sun: Concept Intervention Scenarios

Social Design Pathways

Designers now work on projects at multiple systems levels, both individually and in transdisciplinary teams

Bring public attention to the larger problems

Change food display in the cafeteria line

Cafeteria tray design to guide food

What constitutes “social innovation”?

“A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value crated accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.”

10.18.17 — 
Wed: Social Design Pathways

It seems like we’ve been exploring a multitude of methods to frame the different issues that we’ve been encountering, but not much in researching our topics in full.

10.21.17 — 
Sat: Social Design Pathways

Thought: When do frameworks become obsolete? Do they become obsolete?

10.29.17 — 
Sun: Critical Design Piece — Social Commentary

10.30.17 — 
Sun: Concept Intervention Scenarios

What have I gained so far into the semester? What are the next steps that I’m looking forward to?

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