Free stuff for designers, Systems in Sustainability, Empathy, and Finding Beauty in the Invisible

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It's been a crazy week over here in Chicago- Between interviewing for jobs, getting a few offers, starting part-time work for the duration of school and trying to figure out my future... I've had less time for reflection than I'd ideally like. That said, all of those things haven't stopped me from going to lectures and speaking sessions to learn as much as I can before school is over (Although, admittedly, I can feel senioritis nipping at my heels as a race to stay away from the urge to do less than my best). 

I'll do a short recap of some of the events I've been to lately and if you're interested in going to any events of the same nature, definitely check out AIGA events, IxDA events, and of course events at IIT Institute of Design for the rest of the spring!

Bringing a Systems and Design Thinking Approach to Complex Sustainability Challenges

Peter Nicholson and Lyndon Valicenti from Foresight Design Initiative stopped by to talk about systems mapping and how to understand the drivers and possible interventions in the very complicated system which is sustainability. Foresight Design Initiative is a multifaceted innovation and education nonprofit he established in 2002, so they've had some time to get their hands dirty in complexity. I felt really personally drawn to this topic given my three years working within developing university sustainability metrics and creating programs and projects to promote behavioral and organizational change. It was HAIRY. It was difficult. I fought the man... a lot. Actually "we" fought the man- I worked with an amazing team of engineers, business students, and architects to get the school physically and socially up to speed for sustainability initiatives... and even when I left, there was still a ton more to do. Our work was never over.

Language/Alignment were of particular interest. One of the main issues they brought up was getting everyone on the same page in terms of, well, terms! I noticed this in my experience as well. For example, imagine you're talking about water. Take a look at the number of different things they found out people were talking about when they said the word "water".

 May I present to you... "water"

May I present to you... "water"

Another point they made was about systems mapping. Given that I'm a class on this particular subject, I found this part of the discussion extremely relevant. They mentioned that the first time you're trying to map something, the messier it is the better. Peter actually said if it's not messy, you probably aren't doing it right. See below for iteration 1 and who knows (a closer-to-final iteration).

 rough diagrams.. "the messier the better"

rough diagrams.. "the messier the better"

 a much more organized systems map of the mess to the left

a much more organized systems map of the mess to the left

I wondered if I could connect them with my old gang and get some great mutual work done together to systematically map all of the programs and progress being done and possibly discover ways to integrate sustainability goals into university policy and other metrics. Who knows- at least I passed on their names! I'd love to stop back at my old office in 5 years and see what progress and what changes have occurred. If Dion is reading this, pencil me in ;)

Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love

This was a great talk about startups and balancing measures of success (qual and quant), but it didn't really go into as much on the 'empathy' side as many of us were hoping. 

That said, he left us with some great advice and I'd love to share a little bit of it here. One of my favorite quotes he shared is below- It talks a bit about the power and urge to rely on quantitative data. He strongly believes that there's a certain level of "gut" feeling that goes into the equation. I'm not sure if I agree with the statement, but even in research, I know researchers employ a little of their gut in their translations.

See below:

 My favorite quote from the night

My favorite quote from the night

 How can I bridge the gap? 

How can I bridge the gap? 

If you're interested in the topic, you can pick up a copy of his book on Amazon.

Post-Design: Finding beauty in the invisible and the changing role of the designer

Lastly, I attended a talk by Lauren Serota who leads global research, strategy and design projects both independently and with Studio D Radiodurans. She talked a lot about what design "is" and where it falls short... in terms of adoption in society, and she's totally right.

 Preach, girl... preach!

Preach, girl... preach!

When people think of designers, a good majority of them think about designing "products". I think of products as things that you can touch and feel. I think of many forms of graphic design like print media as products. They often times deal with mechanical complexity. Yep, people know graphic designers, interior designers, and industrial designers. Good. Got that. 

Software designers are next- most software companies these days understand that they should probably hire a ux person or team. I'd say it's a little less defined still though, given how many companies consider "ux" to be something different. From wire framing to research... there's not a ton of consistency. Even in many of my interviews, I found there was a need for a lot of clarification about what type of job role I was envisioning versus what the company was looking for. And average Joes are even more confused about what user experience and interaction designers are in the world of electronics and software. 

Lastly, and probably most powerfully, is the inherent impact of design within policy. Imagine if laws had iterative phases following their passing which helped close loopholes and modified language after passing? No more hidden agendas in bills would simply be allowed to pass and left for the masses to struggle with... because new laws would likely require revision to better meet the intention of the authors and the best interest of the public. What if citizens were able to co-create their laws with their representatives in a way that we can't currently do? It would POWERFULLY CHANGE how our country was run and represented. It would engage citizens and create the type of change needed to address the rot of corruption. Design in policy is incredibly powerful... so powerful in fact, that I often wonder if designers are purposefully left out of the equation so as to not destroy the power structure in place. Even at my undergraduate university, where the administrative organization, oversight, and redundancy has touched many of the students who struggle with the system from the user perspective- design could powerfully reframe problems the school faces and challenge the orthodoxies of "the old ways" of doing things. Change is a scary thing though, and the entity undergoing that sort of revolution needs to be welcome to it and embrace the uncomfortable nature of adaptation. That school, much like our government is probably not ready to accept that sort of change quite yet. I think when it comes down to the wire, when there's a decision to "do or die" so to speak, that's when the organization is ripe for change and ready to claw their way back up the uncomfortable path of change or go under. So how do we kickstart this major overhaul to the entity that rules us? I'm not entirely sure. I would love to hear opinions from others.

Lauren asked us to consider three fundamental questions. I'll list them here. Obviously she went into detail but I figure you've read enough for the day. If you want the full presentation deck, I'll see if I can embed it below.

Have a wonderful evening, world! Thank you for sharing in my thoughts!