Category Archives: week5

Designing for Needs

In class on Wednesday, we heard from the students involved with Design for America. They gave us a presentation on the projects that DFA is involved with including a stuffed animal that helps kids with diabetes adjust to their new lifestyle and health choices. They took us through the process of designing a product to fit a need. I took an industrial design class taught by Professor David Weightman and the concepts introduced on Wednesday were very similar to those used in industrial design.

We were given scenarios to address with our fellow group members. We chose to help Jess, a blind college student, who wanted to feel more at home at her school by going to football games. The process started by addressing who is affected by the design. Then we wrote down as many ideas as we could-no matter how crazy. This is particularly important as many ideas get looked over simply for being out of the ordinary. We discussed our ideas and our experiences with football games and came up with a rather simple solution. We decided to focus our efforts into more of an ergonomics solution instead of a tech heavy solution. Our solution involved installing pads into the ends of the bleachers and various locations in the stadium so Jess would be able to feel with her feet where she is. This would make it much safer for her to navigate the stadium. It would create a value add for everyone that enters the stadium. We used play dough to bring our idea to life before presenting it

I think DFA is a cool organization. It is similar to an organization I’m involved with at school called Illinois Enactus. Enactus is a project based social entrepreneurship organization that works to empower people through sustainable solutions. Learn more about us here:


The Catalyst to Imagination

Design for America

This week in class, we had the opportunity of having our University’s Design for America team come in a give us their very own workshop that involved creating potential solutions for real-life scenarios. The scenario that my team chose to focus on was a case involving a visually impaired mom that had a tough time identifying her daughter in crowded, public areas.

The Design for America team walked us through a step-by-step process of understanding and analyzing a given problem. We were instructed to write down all sorts of details on post-it notes. By doing this, we were able to make a poster filled with post-it notes that helped us come up with potential ideas for helping solve the problem. Image result for post it notes board

Our Idea

Image result for compass watch

The idea that we came up with was a product that had a similar function to a Tile with the additional feature of google maps. Ideally, our product would be like the watch pictured above. We envisioned the mom to wear this watch to help locate her daughter. This would mean that her daughter would have to wear a tracker that the watch would sync up with. Through physical and audio queues, the mom would be lead towards her daughter in any public setting through a save route opened by Google Maps.

Design Thinking

This week, the required reading titled “Design Thinking”  by Tim Brown addressed how businesses are requiring innovative thought processes in order to stay at the forefront of its competitors. A firm that specializes and is often used by companies to acquire innovations is IDEO. IDEO is a global design and innovation company that hopes to create a positive impact through design.

IDEO is so innovative because they do not have a standard way of creating solutions…

Design for America 

To get a better understanding of design thinking, we had workshop from the University’s Design for America team. The team consisted of a diverse group with different majors and different ages. We were tasked to create a product for a visually impaired university student who wanted to feel more connected to her peers and attend social events held by the university. In order to to create a product, we had to go through a design process.  The first stage was to understand our consumer, then create the product.

This design thinking was foreign to me, and I found it challenging not to create a product after hearing the problem from our “client”. But, DFA’s process allowed for a much better understanding of our client and to dive deep into their world and struggles.

Create /Prototyping 

Our team brainstormed and wrote out potential solutions on sticky notes until we were ready to create.  We focused on making football stadiums more of a friendly environment for the the visually impaired and decided to add brail all around the sports arena. It doesn’t sound that innovative, yet it has not been done. One thing that the DFA’s team kept reminding us was that if helped at least a few people, then that was good enough. So, we stuck with our brailed railing at the sport arena since we figured it could be easily implemented around the facility and braille could be added to the existing railing for a tactile experience.



Fascinated by IDEO, I looked more into the firm and its current projects centered on design thinking. Recently, the challenge they faced was to expand Zalando’s human-centered design capability. The outcome was “The Studio”, a jointly run innovation lab that prototypes and builds digital products.

Thank you for reading my blog and I hoped you learned something! See you next week!



Six Steps To Success

This week Design For America spoke to us about design thinking and conducted a workshop. This organization works together to create new solutions to problems. They talked us through their six-step process. We learned that identifying a need is an essential step. It is the first step that will lead into immersing, reframing, ideating, building, and testing. This class period was extremely hands on and active because we solved our own problem. The Design For America team walked us through each step and allocated time for us to brainstorm.

We were trying to help Jess, a blind college student, feel more comfortable at school. My group tried to imagine Jess’s world. We thought the social aspect would be the most difficult because in college it is important to meet friends and be apart of the college sports. Football games are a really big part of the college experience and football stadiums can be dangerous. We created an idea of putting pegs on the stairwell and stairs for Jess to navigate. This way at games she can figure out where she is walking and be cautious. We found safety to be most important for Jess.

This brainstorming strategy taught me to be patient and build on ideas. Your first idea is not always going to be your end goal. It is important to start with one idea and develop it into your final project. They gave us post-it notes and told us to use as many as we want. I really liked this because you were able to organize your thoughts on paper. At the end, we put them on a large piece of paper and were able to connect all our steps together. I am a visual person so this design-thinking workshop worked well for me.

This process will be helpful for our final project. I read an article about Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook. Facebook was first called Thefacebook and he developed it into the site it is now. This is an example of Zuckerberg reframing, building, and testing an idea. I am excited to use what I learned this week for our project.


Week 5 Reflection

This week in class we had a group of guest speakers from an RSO on campus called Design For America (DFA) come in and lead a workshop that focused a lot on the idea that we have been emphasizing all semester of having a making mindset. In this workshop, we were given multiple situations and issues and then taken through some steps to come with viable solutions based off of a lot of questions we were coming up with that describes the main problem we want to solve. For instance, my team took on a problem that a visually impaired mother had about not being able to see or locate her children at times. We then came up with the question “How can we help visually impaired parents locate their children in groups of many children or unknown locations?” to represent the problem we are trying to solve more specifically to hone in on potential solutions. After coming up with a focus question to base our ideas off, we began to bounce off each teammates ideas until we finally came up with an idea to which we then had to create a mock prototype out of supplies at hand such as play-doh, pipe cleaners, magnets and some others. From this workshop, my team came up with the idea of a sort of locator jewelry that can be worn by the parent that is visually impaired as well as his/her children that can use some sort of magnetic technology or location system that will sort of pull or put pressure in the direction of the child. We also thought of some potential ear buds that can also be synced to the device to offer audio directions to the child as well. We then used pipe cleaners to form a bracelet to be worn by the parent and a necklace for the child to wear and used magnets as a design for the necklace and bracelet as well as for its attractive properties.  Lastly, we coated the magnets in blue play-doh to make them appear like actual jewelry pieces.


This was a very interesting workshop that helped give us an idea of things we can do to help us come up with an idea for our semester project. Focusing more on a problem to solve then branching out to potential solutions we found is very efficient for our team and got us thinking of possible project ideas. It also helped me learn a lot about DFA, which is a very interesting RSO that I wish I would have known about earlier in my college career and cannot wait to hear what great projects they work on in the future.

Nuances of Design

Our class was privileged to have Design for America as our guest speaker this week. Thus far our guest speakers have all been industry professionals. I enjoyed hearing another student’s thoughts on design and the digital making world. Our guest speakers reframed the way I thought about design and offered plenty to think about as I start working on my final project.

I always thought design involved either architecture, cars, or interior decorating. I quickly realized that design is an aspect of everything humans have made. It impacts effectiveness, aesthetics, user experience, practicality, etc.  Engineers and makers are continuously tweaking their designs to improve these areas.  A good design may make a product, but a bad design can break it. For example, take a look at these parking signs from Los Angeles.

How much time does it take to see if parking is free on Sunday? The second picture is clearly the better design,  but not every example will be this clear. How different are these pictures from each other?  Although they contain the same information, these pictures display it in vastly different ways. I’m mentioning this to show that improving design doesn’t have to be rocket science. Sometimes nuances make all the difference.

The city of Los Angeles has since implemented new parking signs. However, a key idea from the presentation is that innovation happens throughout the whole design process, not just implementation. One must think critically in order to understand and discover where the true problem lies in their design. In the parking sign example, this turns out to be information overload.

Understanding the true nature of the design problem is easier said than done. The design process is simplified into 6 steps: identify, immerse,  reframe, ideate, build, and test.  The first 3 steps are necessary for one to understand the problem. Much like consultants, designers must interview relevant individuals in order to gain new perspectives. “How Can We” statements are useful tools that help a team narrow down to a single point of focus.

Once the pain points have been identified,  the next 3 steps are turning abstract ideas into concrete solutions.  Although these steps are useful guidelines outlining the design process, the real process is far from linear.  You will be jumping forward and backward from one step to the next as the team generates new ideas and takes in more information.

My group designed an interactive railing to help blind college students feel more included on campus.  It was interesting to see the variety of designs our class came up with during our limited time. After each group presented their design, I wish we could have engaged in a class brainstorming discussion where we had the opportunity to combine all our ideas into one solution.


Thank you for reading. You can read more about LA parkings signs and other good/bad design ideas here.



Design Thinking to Solve Problems


This week in class we had guest speakers from Design For America give a presentation on a way of thinking about design that helps create solutions to problems. I had never heard of this organization before but after listening to their presentation and seeing some of the projects that they have done I think they are a great organization. They have helped create a stuffed animal called Jerry that helps kids who have diabetes understand the lifestyle that they have to live and also worked with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to create a steering wheel that helps drivers focus and transition to autonomous cars. This group really takes design to the next level and I wish I had heard of them a few years ago because I would have loved to be in.

For the workshop that we did in class, we were given a scenario in which we chose to help out Jess, a blind University of Texas student who feels disconnected from her peers and avoids football games, tailgates, and other large gatherings because of the disorder and unreliability of these types of events. My group then went through a series of steps in which we eventually created a How Can We statement that helped us focus to just helping Jess feel safer at a football game yet still involved with the student section. After brainstorming a variety of different ideas, we came up with a system of pads that could be installed on the floor of the stadium that had patterns that described each section of the stadium. For example, the end of each row of seats would have a specific pattern that would let Jess know she was about to enter or leave a row. There would also be patterns on stairs, doorways, bathrooms, and others that would help guide Jess around the stadium without having to have a guide. We were then given a bunch of different materials and we actually created a mockup of our concept. It was cool to see how this process helped us go from wanting to help someone to a physical representation of a product in about an hour or so.

The process we went through in class reminded me of what IDEO does. They are a design firm that is very famous for using the same type of design thinking and have created countless innovations. Above is a video of IDEO redesigning the shopping cart and a link to their website that describes the shopping cart in detail.

Inspiration, Ideation & Design

This week’s class was made me feel as inspired and creative as I did when I was little and the world was my playground. Design for America came in to give a presentation on the Design Process and walked us through the process for a certain group and issue from understanding the client to crafting a solution.

I have learned and utilized the design process once before in an industrial design class, taught by David Weightman who also introduced the idea of design thinking in our pre-class video. I really enjoyed this Design storm session because it completely encompassed and quickly introduced us to each step of the design process in a condensed form. Below you will see the 6 steps in the design process that Design For America (DFA) follows when working on any of their projects.

They walked us through each of these steps with an example situation by introducing different personal stories who each struggled with a certain aspect of life due to their blindness disability. They had already completed the first step by identifying our target group and users for the design. Our group chose to focus on solving the issue of anxiety when in unknown social situations for Jess, a blind college student. The second step in this process was immersing ourselves in our user’s world by making assumptions about how she sees the world, what she feels, thinks, hears, says, does, wants, and needs. Part of the design process is coming up with a bunch of ideas each on separate post-it notes to visualize and determine the most important ideas. After making assumptions, we were able to build “How Can We… statements” to better narrow our focus for the project. Our group came up with  a few statements focusing on bettering the social environment of Football games for students who are visually impaired.


After framing and understanding the issue and potential client, we delved into the ideate portion with an individual and then longer group brainstorm sessions. In this part of class, we came up with as many solutions to the issue as we could find. One of the ideas I came up with was a railing with various textures that would differ depending on the place where you are in the stadium. We ended up adjusting this idea in our group brainstorm session to become our product and mockup in the Build portion of the process.


We ended up designing a railing that would surround the entire stadium and have brail labels for each different area (such as student section, hot dog stand, ect.) to help with navigation throughout the stadium hopefully decreasing uneasiness of the unknown. We presented this to the class and they had mainly positive feedback however during the ideation stage we wished we could ask questions to the user group to determine whether our solution would be useful.

Overall, this class opened our eyes to the design process and I look forward to transferring these skills towards our own ideation process towards our semester project.

Further Learnings from Printing Fusion Design: Nozzle Size

As a side note: Last week I printed the desk cord organizer that I had designed using Fusion 360 and have included pictures of the final product as well. With each print, I learn something new. This, like the phone stand had a balance issue however I could solve that by using a command strip to attach the organizer to my desk so that the cords would not immediately pull it towards the floor and it works quite well.

Additionally, the first few prints I didn’t understand how the nozzle size impacted the print, however I now know that using a 0.4 nozzle is typically the standard however will be much slower to print than the .8 nozzle. This makes sense, thinking about it as the .8 extrudes twice as fast due to the larger size, it is able to cut the print time in half. The down side of this is that it may not be able to capture as many small details if there are thin lines. Additionally, I learned that if using supports, it is quite difficult to remove .8 supports however .4 supports are easy to remove due to thinner lines and less strength in the material. If interested in learning more about how the nozzle size impacts the print you can refer to the 2 links below that I used. 

Understanding your user

Class Summary

This week’s class brought an important element to our understanding of 3D printing: design thinking. The people of Design for America helped me to understand the importance of knowing your user – in 3D printing and in problem-solving in general. This is a fundamental concept of business. Any strong business will be a solution to a problem. It should be no secret that the best way to solve any problem is to take on the perspective of those experiencing it. The solution must be designed for these people in order to be most effective. I experienced this lesson in full when we began the assumptions phase of our model solution for the visually impaired.

Building a Solution

When building a product for Jess to better navigate through large crowds (and lead a more typical independent college life), there were many details left unanswered. Is Jess completely blind? Are her other senses heightened? Is Jess used to her blindness? Without being able to interview Jess and discovering the answers to these questions,  we cannot build an adequate solution to her problem. If you make assumptions about the general population with evidence to support your claims, it can be easy to design a product that does not solve the user’s problem in the most effective way.

Ultimately, we made a model of an attachment device to a walking stick. The attachment would allow Jess to quickly send her location to friends, or send out a distress signal. I wish I had a photo of our model but I never took one.

In Class Readings

In our reading, Tim Brown discusses design thinking from a business perspective. We need to design effective products that address our customers needs better than any competition. The best way to grasp this, Brown writes, is through examining the pain points at a close level and prototyping solutions quickly to address them.

External Knowledge

I thought this was an interesting breakdown article of design thinking in which the author breaks down design thinking into 5 steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. This is essentially a summary of everything I’ve written above. Design thinking is basically problem-solving. In order to solve a problem, we must start with understanding it from the perspective of the entity that the problem impacts. Then, after we observe, we define the problem. Then, we ideate solutions, build a model of what we think is the best initial solution, and respond to how our customer engages with it.

I thought this was an excellent video on design thinking by Airbnb. Airbnb took quite some time to take off from the time it launched. Much of its newfound success should be attributed to a deeper level of design thinking. I think you’ll find the video to be intriguing.

Week 5 Reflection

In our fifth week, BADM 395 hosted Design for America. Design for America (DFA) is a registered student organization on the University campus, as well as a nationwide group of creators dedicated to using 3D printing technology to better the world around them. The four guest speakers from DFA introduced us to their six-step plan to solve the issues that arise in any project. The first three steps are based on understanding while the final three steps deal with the creation process. Identify, immerse, reframe, ideate, build, and test makes up the six-step method. One concept the DFA team explained in detail was the interwoven nature of the six steps. While the team often starts with identifying, immersing, and reframing, they often ideate, build, and test prototypes. To truly have an effective finished product, the DFA team must use the six steps multiple times and often out of order. After teaching us their strategy, the DFA team challenged us to make a build for someone with a disability.

This was a great opportunity for us to learn about the challenges and potential solutions for the physically disabled. After some discussion with my team, we settled on Jess because she is a college student just like us. Jess, a blind woman, attends UT Austin and is having a hard time adapting to social situations. The case explained that Jess enjoyed the excitement of football games but couldn’t traverse the stadium without help from her friends. During the understanding phases of our creation, we identified the problem, tried to immerse ourselves in her situation, and reframed the issue. After writing down assumptions, people she interacts with, and her activities, we began designing a walking stick for Jess. Fitted with Bluetooth, GPS, and a motion sensor we aimed to help Jess navigate through Austin. Our prototype was made of pipe cleaners and our final product was made of Play-Doh. We outfitted Jess with Bluetooth headphones that relay important information to her such as incoming objects. We would pair these headphones with Jess’ phone to allow her to quickly communicate with her friends. Overall, the building process was an insightful and humbling project. I look forward to seeing more innovation from DFA.

Working with DFA taught me the importance of having a maker mindset. In the above video, you can see Infosys Foundation sponsoring a creative session for children to let their imagination run wild. At Infosys, they are more interested in teaching students the steps of idea creation rather than restricting their creativity by having an arbitrary goal. Even with the right mindset, you can still fail multiple times. However, having a maker mindset can turn those failures into lessons for future builds. Infosys shows how having the right mindset can ensure success.

Creating Solutions with Design Thinking


This week, we read an article called “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown of the Harvard Business Review. I found this article to be incredibly insightful as it highlighted an industry leader in design thinking, a firm called IDEO. IDEO focuses on closely observing actual problems and creating innovative solutions from there, rather than creating a solution and trying to market it to the masses. The article cites how designers are now being asked to create ideas, not simply dress them up. This article really set the stage for the presentation we had in class from the student group Design for America. I understand that effective product design is about understanding the problem at it’s deepest level.

Furthermore, we watched a video interview between our very own Vishal Sachdev with Professor David Weightman, who has a background in industrial design and a wealth of experience in product design. He talked about the matrix between desirability, viability, and feasibility when determining where the “sweet spot” of good design resides. Furthermore, he focused on the responsibility that designers have to create not only effective products, but products that are mindful of our resources and planet. He summed about critical design thinking in a couple sentences, “Understanding what other people are about is a very important part of what a designer needs to do. Observing and inquiring gives you insights into unmet needs at the moment – and that’s the time you start ideating.”

Guest Speaker

As I mentioned, we had the University’s Design for America team come in and give us a workshop on the actual design thinking process that they go through when creating a new idea. They narrowed down our market to the visually impaired, and gave us four unique ‘clients’ we could cater our ideas to. My group chose a visually-impaired college students, who’s blindness affects her ability to attend social events at school.

The process they shared with us was truly eye-opening for me (and was completely relevant to the readings)! Instead of going straight into products, they had us spend time simply writing down our assumptions, pain points, potential solutions, etc. on sticky notes. By the end of this brainstorming process, our work station was covered in colorful sticky notes!

However, I saw how DFA’s process began to narrow down solutions and opportunities until our idea was right there in front of us. It was amazing looking through the DFA America page and reading their Process Guide which addresses how to apply the skills and values of human-centered design to address social challenges.


We ended up creating a unique walking stick attachment for our client. We recognized that we didn’t want to ‘reinvent the wheel’ by creating an entirely new walking stick. Rather, we designed a modular attachment, that clips over the stick’s base, that can give it a wide new range of functionality, including Bluetooth, NFC, emergency calling, GPS, etc.

I realized that creating a unique prototype was only half the battle. As I explored the IDEO U homepage, I noticed how much emphasis they put on sharing the story, or crafting a production narrative to inspire others toward actions. Keeping this mind, we tried to present our product as not just a simple model made out of pipe cleaners and PVC, but rather a tool that could truly ease the life of visually-impaired clients everywhere. We wanted to sell our story, not just our product. This is an important lesson that I hope to carry into my actual semester project!


Design thinking is more than just common sense (Week 5)

What happened this week?

This week, we learned about design thinking. Design For America presented and led a small workshop during the class period. Taken from the group’s website, “Design for America is an idea incubator, a motivated community, and a way of approaching complicated challenges. DFA shapes the next generation of social innovators.” I am in a social entrepreneurial group on campus called Enactus – previously, I thought we were the only organization devoted to social good not through volunteerism, but through sustainable solutions. I was pleasantly surprised to learn more about Design For America and how the group creates designs (of both products and processes) to help others help themselves. I’m sad I’m a senior now and do not have the time to join the organization!

So what?

Design thinking is a strategy designers use to create new solutions. The process is first to understand then to create. Under the pillar of “understand” comes identifying, immersing, and reframing. One of the most important parts of the design process is to correctly identify the need. Something the DFA team said that really stood out to me was that a designer should look at the need first then make several different, creative solutions. It seems like common sense, but more often than not, I am thinking more of the product in the beginning of my design thinking process than the need group. I will try to thoroughly assess the need first in the future.

Under the pillar of “create” comes the last three steps of the design thinking process. Ideation, building, and testing are the more tangible parts of the process. At any time, a designer can go back to any point in the process – it’s not supposed to be static.

I’ve found an interesting article on “music thinking” and how it’s connected to design thinking. When musicians create a piece of music, they also go through the design thinking process. The only difference is that their product isn’t tangible. And steps like collecting user stories are accomplished through showing compositions to friends, fellow musicians, and professionals in the industry. According to the article, music thinking “reflects the dynamics of daily business, working together with different experts, have to perform everyday on an high expectation level in different performance venues for an changing audience. Music thinking also knows ‘radical change’ in style, technical innovation and behavior of the crowd, customer, consumer, user, downloader. Music thinking is the behavioral side of design thinking.”

The article goes on to apply this thinking to a dancer’s routine creation. Find the article here. We learn a lot about things like design or music thinking in classes that might seem like common sense – but I believe we can’t fully grasp the concepts of these things unless we acknowledge them and apply a name to them. So, while it might be true that starting with a lot of ideas, narrowing them down, and making a few iterations of a final product can be done by someone who does not know what design thinking is, there is power in acknowledging the concept and being able to check each step off the list as you design.

Now What?

I have also found this TedTalk on design thinking. The speaker talks about how sometimes, designers have to be taught to relive their childhoods in order to effectively create innovative designs. The talk is very interesting and goes into a lot more than I mention – it can be found here. I previously mentioned that I have been thinking too much about the product before I correctly identify the need group. Going forward with the group project and my own designs, I am going to spend longer on the identifying and reframing aspects of design thinking. I will also try to maintain that “child-like” creativity by not limiting my ideas before I put them on paper.



Designing to Change the World

This past week we learned about the concept of design thinking. Design for America (DFA) at Illinois, is a student organization part of a  national network of creators and innovators seeking to revolutionize the way college students engage with the world around us. DFA focuses on utilizing the design process to generate ingenious solutions to various challenges in our communities.  Before this workshop, I have heard about the amazing work DFA through my involvement in Illinois Enactus. Design thinking is a powerful tool to that allows an individual to structure and channel their ideas to form a positive impact in the world.

Key Takeaways from DFA Workshop

From the DFA workshop, I learned how the design process is not a linear process. Although it can be separated into two stages, the design process over time is very iterative. It’s broken up into an understanding phase and then a create stage. I learned how imperative it is to first understand in order to design. I was surprised to learn how in-depth the understanding process is.  DFA talked about how you need to go beyond just identifying a problem, you need to immerse yourself to truly understand all of a problems nuances.

What I really enjoyed about the DFA workshop was the hands on activity. It was a neat opportunity to collaborate with my peers to engage in design thinking. The problem we examined was blindness in the urban environment. We chose to design a problem for Jess, a legally blind college student who felt disconnected from many of her peers. First, we identified and made some assumptions about our user. Assumptions like “Jess knows how to navigate her surroundings as a legally blind individual” helped us begin the process of attempting to understand our user. From there, we made additional assumptions about how Jess hears, sees, and feels. I thought the most beneficial part of this process was when we started to create “How Can We” statements. This allowed us to narrow our focus from broad to specific. Ultimately, my group and I came up with the idea of a “smart cover” for blind walking sticks. Key features we incorporated into our idea was Bluetooth and GPS functionality, and rubber material so that it could be a one size fit all attachment.

When reflecting on the workshop led by DFA, I was reminded about Tim Brown’s, IDEO’s CEO, approach to design thinking. Brown discusses how close observation combined with brainstorming and rapid prototyping can streamline information shifts and produce more efficient an effective results. I noticed that the iterative process to come up with an end product idea required much collaboration and flexibility in thought. Furthermore, it was important to set time limits for each stage and to not get caught up in one part of the process for too long.

Other Design Thinking Resources

Other resources I examined this week associated with Design thinking was a podcast published by McKinsey titled The power of design thinking and a Ted Talk given by Joe Gebbia, the founder of Airbnb. In the McKinsey podcast, Hugo Sarrazin, a McKinsey director and the digital vice president of McKinsey Digital Labs talk about the impact of design and how it can drive positive change within an organization. Joe Gebbia’s Ted Talk explores how the design process can be tailored to address specific  issues. Gebbia discusses how he founded Airbnb with the principle of trust in mind. This principle led him to tailor the design process to design for trust, resulting in the successful creation and expansion of Airbnb. The Ted Talk and McKinsey podcast are listed below. I am excited to continue using this framework as my team and I finalize our project idea.


Learning the Design Process

Design for America Overview

Hello! This past week our class was able to learn the Design Process from our University of Illinois peers at Design for America (DFA). “Design for America is an idea incubator, a motivated community, and a way of approaching complicated challenges. DFA shapes the next generation of social innovators” ( The individuals representing DFA were very knowledgeable in guiding us through the process and offering great insight. I have a good friend who has worked closely with DFA; this relationship has actually resulted in a successful startup company: Therapalz. Check out the company’s website here: Essentially, Therapalz creates smart therapeutic companion animals for patients with Alzheimer’s. These customizable animals have realistic heartbeats, lifelike sounds, and calming vibrations to provide additional comfort for patients working through this challenging disease. Please keep this success story in mind as I guide you through the Design Process we learned from DFA because it gives a strong indication about how perseverance through this process can produce great results.


The Design Process

The stages of this process are: Identify, Immerse, Reframe, Ideate, Build, and Test. Identifying involves simply observing or researching a challenge. Once it is identified, we must immerse ourselves into learning every piece of information about the challenge. Then we move into the reframe stage which is where the problem is further narrowed down through the insights we have gained through the previous two steps. Once we understand the specific challenge, we then begin creating in the ideate stage. This means writing down each and every possible solution to the problem. We then begin building prototypes based off of these potential solutions. None of these prototypes should be considered final because they should be built up, torn apart, and iterated to better model a viable solution to the challenge. Finally, we test the model with the end-users. We will go back and forth between building and testing until a final solution is pinpointed.

We were able to go through this process by analyzing a case involving an individual named Brian. Brian is an aspiring entrepreneur in the Austin area who faces challenges when navigating the city due to being blind. My team was able to simulate the Design Process by going through each of the steps with a goal of figuring out the best plan for Brian. We came up with the idea of helping Brian navigate by teaching him with two of his senses other than sight: touching and hearing. This would be accomplished by giving Brian a 3D-printed map of his route with depth features indicating roads, buildings, turns, etc. along the path. The 3D-printed object would allow him to become comfortable with his route before having to take it; his sense of touch will give him further confidence in memorizing the path. Second, we would leverage his sense of hearing to guide him step-by-step in real-time while he is walking his route. This will be aided by his phone-based GPS and headphones. Ultimately, we believe Brian will gain much more comfort and confidence through leveraging two of his stronger senses and the technology we designed.


Wrap up & Thank you

Overall, learning the Design Process helped bridge the gap between the real-world challenges that our class has been identifying and the skills we have learned in regard to 3D printing. Prior to this session, we did not have a specific path to follow when connecting our challenges to 3D printing (we simply 3D-printed without much end-user consideration/prototyping in mind). Now, we have the skills necessary to Identify, Immerse, Reframe, Ideate, Build, and Test our ideas. As evident in Therapalz, a challenge was identified, the Design Process was leveraged, and now patients with Alzheimer’s are living more comfortable lives (see video below). I am excited to use this framework to get started on our class’s semester project with my teammates. Thank you for taking the time to read my post this week.


-Scott Provenzano



Design Thinking: Where Empathy is an Asset, not a Weakness

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to engage my inner child and toy with playdough and pipe cleaners! This week’s workshop with Design for America gave us a chance to channel our creativity into solving problems and truly practice “design thinking,” as Tim Brown from IDEO conceptualized.

The theme for the workshop’s design activity was centered around the blind population in Austin, who were facing various challenges adapting to the rapidly urbanized environment. My group chose to focus on Jess, a college student at UT Austin who was excelling academically, but felt isolated from the campus social scene due to her blindness. We wanted to find a way to ensure that Jess felt safe and comfortable getting to and from football games on her own. We brainstormed all sorts of design ideas—from the most outlandish to the most obvious—and came up with an initial prototype for a smart walking stick that had GPS and paired with Bluetooth earphones. The walking stick could send GPS data to smartphones as well, in case Jess’s friends wanted to locate her, or in case Jess lost her walking stick somewhere.

While I enjoyed playing with the various art supplies and brainstorming, I think what really resonated with me was the process of empathizing. Quite often, problem solving is exclusively viewed as a highly analytical activity, and of course, that aspect is equally important. However, design thinking really emphasizes the importance of being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and I think that’s a skill that’s often overlooked or taken for granted in many fields. Speaking from my own experience of interning at a large bank last summer, I feel as though “having empathy” is often synonymous with showing weakness or lacking objectivity in parts of corporate America. However, when properly leveraged, I think it can provide keen insights about any user/client and can drive tremendous amounts of change in the positive direction.

We had the opportunity to present our prototypes and receive feedback, which is an incredibly important part of the design process. It was helpful to hear critique of our design, because it forced us to consider things we hadn’t thought about, like how the GPS feature in the walking stick might be redundant assuming Jess’s smartphone already has GPS. Nonetheless, I was proud of the amount of ideating we were able to do within an hour (early in the morning, that too.)

The students from DFA did a great job of relaying the importance of empathizing, failing, collaborating, and communicating—they were also quick to stress that the exercise we did in class was incomplete without real user feedback, which is the most important part of the design process. I felt really inspired after the workshop, and found some other resources on design thinking:

  1. I’m always on the lookout for applications to the financial services industry, and I thought this article on how design thinking is impacting banking was really interesting: 

2. Here is Elise Roy, a disability rights lawyer who happens to be deaf, herself—in her TED talk, she talks about how designing for disabilities often creates better outcomes for everyone.