Reflections on a Day at the d.School: Part Three

I can split this up into 3 general categories:

The Debrief
Booty Calls of Design
An Ode to Modularity

For today we’re we’re looking at the third.

One of the cool features of the d.School is hangable whiteboards. Although these whiteboards hang on top of other whiteboards, they present a unique opportunity for team collaboration.

A consistent problem with using whiteboards in maker spaces is that the boards tend to get erased regularly, losing progress when you don’t take a picture. Even if you do take a picture, you still may need to recreate parts of it which is as much waste of time. Fortunately, the d.School’s approach to these hanging whiteboards is to have 30-40 of them. This means that each team working on a project in the main hacking area can have at least one, maybe two boards. This allows progress to be saved without resorting to pictures and recreating previous work.

The concept behind these whiteboards is modularity, and it’s rampant throughout the d.School. From the rolling couches tables, and chairs in studio one to the rolling dividers and movable everything in studio two to the incredible chaos and adaptability of the DEA room, the d.School is not fond of fixed structures.

In addition to the specific whiteboard case, the benefit of the school’s modularity is that a fixed space can work for nearly any team on any project. No longer does the hardware in the room limit it, nor do poorly placed objects hinder collaboration. Everything and anything can move to make the room perfect for any team.

Although extremely functional, these spaces aren’t as pretty as many shiny new ones. But as we know form follows function. And it makes me think, what functions are we limiting due to peoples desires to have attractive spaces that make good marketing material?

Reflections on a Day at the d.School: Part Two

Reflections on a day at the d.School Part Two

I can split this up into 3 general categories:

The Debrief
Booty Calls of Design
An Ode to Modularity

For today we’re we’re looking at the second.

During the afternoon sesh on saturday we had a very interesting storytelling experience. One of the fab’s put on “Destination Earth” and looped the song Andrew by Jonwayne. From a zine we retrieved 4 pictures, put them in a random order, and told a story withe them.

As your fearless narrator, I made some grade A bullshit about a tall dark and handsome man who’s actually a dinosaur in a frog princess ripoff of a fairytale. I knew it was bullshit and so did the group–but interestingly this was exactly the point. My story was bullshit, and so are many of the stories put out by companies.

When we try to incorporate stories, its occasionally done as an afterthought as my story was to these four pictures. Called in at the last minute to leave a deep and complex void, these are the booty calls of design.

During the session we directly explored storytelling. Often enough, we make a brilliant product or service and right before needing to sell it we go oh shit I need a story. That’s the booty call. Clearly, the product should have been designed with the story in mind the whole time.

Those who like to quote might call this starting with the end in mind.

The problem with adding the story at the very end is that it implies that the end user isn’t the focus. Yes its definitely possible to do customer discovery but not build out a story until the very end–however, by engaging customers in depth with how they feel and interact, we get their stories and can construct one out of those.

Quite simply, when designing empathetically, the story basically writes itself.

Another booty call of design that I had the opportunity to experience today (monday) is in the stakeholder map. The teaching staff for Design for Extreme Affordability told us that when they see others try to do something similar–particularly when partnering with NGOs–the stakeholders are nearly an afterthought that gets slapped on when you need a real mission.

When I write it out this way, it feels painfully obvious that not thinking about the stakeholders is ridiculous, and I have to ask who are you even designing this for then?

The way this manifests itself in class creation seems to be that people have this great and wonderful idea of something they can make students do. BUT, instead of figuring out who can benefit from it, they ask how can others benefit the class. Strategic partnerships with NGOs for example, end up being sources of ideas, instead of a platform through which to connect with the end user, and a group to whom the deliverables are for.

To remedy this, the DEA teaching staff had us make a stakeholder map for a hypothetical course. I found this particularly beneficial because I had no ideas for a new UD class, so instead of thinking how can I twist my idea to fit criteria, I could think about the honest needs of different people and make a hypothetical class that meets those needs.

This sounds surprisingly similar to the validated problem concept from something like the lean startup. It sounds like a shift that’s already been made in many entrepreneurial circles, just not experienced by less entrepreneurial groups.

There are a few other booty calls but they end up having similar results to these two–think about the customer (stakeholders) by validating problems and designing empathetically.

If you aren’t making something for those stakeholders, who are you making it for?

Reflections on A Day at the d.School: Part 1.5

To contrast yesterday’s nearly 1200 word long reflection, I have few words today.

Don’t tell them, show them. Instead of telling them what they should be learning, let them live the experience and tell each other.

This is the two sentence summary of yesterday’s post, and it stayed with me throughout today. It’s inspired a few big big ideas that may or may not come to much. We’ll see.

Reflections on a Day at the d.School: Part One

Reflections on a day at the d.School

I can split this up into 3 general categories:

The Debrief
Booty Calls of Design
An Ode to Modularity

For today we’re just going to think about the first. More will show up later.

The Debrief:
The lesson I learned, stated directly upfront, is that there’s no good reason to do a debrief with you on the stage. There’s reasons, like maintaining the power dynamic, continuing to feel important, and giving them something to look at. These are reasons, but not particularly good ones. This relies on the traditional classroom assumption that the lecturer is important and has all the information. Everyone pays attention to the lecturer. Ideally, they pay attention to only the lecturer, as answers given by the class tend to be to questions that are fishing for an answer.

Now, why you wouldn’t want to the sage on the stage: students better understanding what they learned by sharing it, students better listening to each other, and and facilitating personal connections. The opposite of the sage on the stage is the comparably rhyming guide on the side. When we debriefed the stokes activities the facilitators sat down with us on the floor. We’ll get to that, but emphasis on them being facilitators. When you’re hosting an interactive event like a workshop you aren’t lecturing it like you would in a class–you’re hosting, facilitating, leading, etc. The choice of words is important because a facilitator has a COMPLETELY different approach than a lecturer. The lecturer does the heavy lifting alone and has the main intention of transferring the knowledge from the adult to the children. Again words mean things so this adult/child distinction, while a little extreme, I feel better captures the power dynamic. When you’re facilitating however, the students or attendees are doing the heavy lifting themselves. They don’t need you to to them what they should be learning or feeling because they’re busy doing it and feeling it themselves, as well as sharing. Too busy living it to listen to you tell them how they should live.

As the day at the d.School wasn’t entirely perfect, we got to see this demo’d. In the odd case where someone was on the stage telling us what we should be learning, it just didn’t vibe as well. I know that I felt more distracted when I wasn’t listening to my peers and was reading things off of a powerpoint. You’ll have to believe me or try it yourself since I’m clearly biased, but the smaller group interaction was far more engaging and I wasn’t tempted to zone out or check my phone.

How they did this: after doing either a small group or individual interactions with a large group based activity, one of the facilitators (there were multiple, this is important to breaking up large groups) ran over and claimed 10-20 of us, and asked us to sit down in a circle so we could discuss the activity. Instead of asking “what did you learn,” they asked questions more like “how did this one part of the activity make you feel?” Or, “What made you the most uncomfortable?” Or most importantly, “How could you see yourself directly applying this into your field or at your school?”

Unsurprisingly the last one got some great answers. It takes that hard thinking you might do later and brings it here, now, immediately after doing the activity. This eliminates some of the cognitive biases we can apply with things have time to settle–emphasizing the raw thoughts in the moment. This combined with the group sharing has the power of constructive conversation that’s tailored the students specific problems instead of the generic “this activity demonstrated how to celebrate failure.”

As an example, we did an improv based exercise where we took our real selves and inserted ourselves into a scenario given by the facilitators. The scenario wasn’t that important, but the discussion topic was.

First, we started at a cocktail party hosted by a mutual friend of all group members, Pedro. Pedro was socializing with other guests and we found ourselves in a group talking about what we did and how our week was.

What we got was a brief summary of the things we do, and how much time they take up. Valuable information in getting to know someone, but not that helpful in really getting to know someone.

After a little talking, we found ourselves in a park, walking among the trees. We were talking about what our work means to us.

Unsurprisingly the answers had near delusions of grandeur (mostly warranted). Again very helpful in getting to know someone, but just not quite hitting hard enough to dig in deep.

Lastly, after waking around this part for a while longer we had made a campfire and were sitting around the dying flame and hot coals. It’s dark now and the lights in the atrium were turned off. This allowed the facilitators to create the mood in the physical space as much as the mental one. This time, we discussed what was most important to us in life.

Somewhat surprisingly (to me at least), we got right into the deep end here. Right to what really makes you who you are. I admit this could have really easily been put as “I like innovation” due to the framing of the meetup, but each in the group shared very specifically the single thing that meant the most to them in their life. My group took the approach of what concept is most important–what guides your life.

After talking for a few more minutes, a facilitator ran over and sat us all down. We had a group of about ten and he asked us how we felt at each level of conversation. We talked about the value of going deep with people and how sometimes you need to ramp up into it. Most importantly we discussed how the concepts of going deep with people can be applied to seemingly completely unrelated situations. It’s easy to use it when you’re teaching design, and even when your team is struggling to work together. It’s more difficult to just take someone else’s work and figure out how this could help.

When someone gave an answer that was “bad” by some standards–usually making the group grimace–instead of shooting it down the facilitator asked if anyone else felt similarly. We got a few yeses but mostly no’s. Getting this group consensus allowed the facilitator to choose whether to pursue the “bad” answer or to direct the group into what related most to the group. Just being the d.School and how they operate, the weird answers were valued and discussed briefly as they have merit but groups were ultimately steered toward what related most to the group, mostly due to time constraints.

My summary of this is simply why be the sage on the stage–working so very hard to impress learning upon the students, and often failing–when you choose to be the guide on the side, letting them do the hard work, hard thinking, and even allowing themselves to learn in a way more comfortable to them.

A Question of Intent

Often when we do good in the world we consider the intent behind it. We look for the purity of heart in good deeds, even when the outcome is similar.

As if feeding the hungry is invalidated when the incentive could be a tax write off or doing community service is shameful when used as legal punishment.

That second one is different isn’t it? If I volunteer to clean up a park on saturday because I enjoy the park it feels way different than if I was mandated to do so by a judge. With some assumptions–namely that I’ll do comparable or identical work in both situations–the outcome is the same because we assumed it. But for some reason it feels worse.

In an attempt to figure it out we can choose a few extreme scenarios to look at how it functions.

Indisputably bad:
In the case of abuse, I’d argue that intention does not matter at all. No way no how. Even if the abuser genuinely believed that they were doing something good for the victim (mostly in emotional cases), it’s a bad outcome and the abuser is at fault.

Indisputably good:
The most saint-like person you’ve ever met volunteers all day every day because they believe in helping others with no benefit to themselves. Although I’ve labelled it as indisputably good, the role of intent is unclear here. The ability to claim that this person has immense purity of heart makes for great storytelling and role modeling, but it’s not that much different than if that person thinks that helping others is a way to help themselves.

As I’ve phrased it, we have every reason to believe the interpersonal reactions of our saint are identical whether they are completely selfless or hold the helping you helps me mentality. Conveniently real life isn’t simple and this distinction is important. When doing good the difference often shows in your interactions.

You know at least one person whose interactions radiate genuine care and attention. Interacting with this person is a joy and doing so regularly is quite the privilege. This is the kind of touch that often comes with the right intent. While I earlier assumed the outcomes can be identical, we now see that the process is not. Yes, the process of creating, but more importantly the process of experiencing.

To take it out of context yet again, we can consider the process of buying something at a store. I’m confident you can imagine the difference in feeling between a mega-chain store and a smaller local shop. The mega-chain tends to be very sterile and just business feeling while local shops can often be more people focused. This comes from intent. The former is focused on the transaction while the latter is focused on serving people. This leads to the subtle yet important difference of experiencing someone really truly caring about something.

Another interesting concept to consider is the time scale associated with intent. If people can change, so can their intent, and thus the outcome.

While some go searching for their passion, others just start doing something and learn to love it. Often the passion behind something isn’t from the generic subject matter but from the rewarding nature of diving deep into something. This tends to have a large time scale (many years) associated with it.

Intent and its change can work similarly. In the community service example our hardened criminal is mandated to clean the park–arguably a bad intent. But what if in a few years our now softened criminal continues to clean the park. The mandated service hours are long over and they’re still doing good. What may have started as begrudgingly following orders has developed into that genuine caring that acting with good intentions is all about.

What I’m getting at here is that current actions don’t exist in a bubble. What you’re doing right now isn’t an instantaneous and isolated action that only affects the world right this minute. What you’re doing right now can ripple around for a while before coming back to you or finding someone else. Considering this, I’d argue its more useful to judge an idea/action/project by its potential to have good intent than the current intent of the person behind it.

If my intent in writing this is for publicity of my name and writing (its not), but my post somehow inspires you to cure cancer, does my bad intent ruin the post? As it (hypothetically) has the potential to get you to think about something in a new way that can benefit society, it’s a net positive. Since I don’t have selfish intent behind this, I hope the thought and my voice comes through on it.

All in Your Head

Today had to (got to) speak in front of two classes. One was an assignment, and one to prototype a workshop, but both were a little scary.

The class assignment was was scary because I was meant to present last week but I managed to largely misinterpret the assignment and had to revise it for this week. This presentation did go fairly well and I felt confident in my knowledge of the subject. Unsurprisingly, any fear was entirely projected and unfounded.

Projected because I assumed how people–namely my professor–would react with no reason to believe that would happen. Running scenarios in my head is a thing I do sometimes, kind of like a computer but much more flawed because I’m quite human. It’s useful much of the time, particularly when anticipating failure points–quite a few problems have been averted from this.

Unfortunately every once in a while I get it all wrong, particularly with people, and subject myself to some expectation of ridicule or anger when its largely unfounded.

I do understand that there are very real and legitimate exceptions–you know who you are. But for the rest of us, it’s all in our heads.