Category Archives: AC4D

Summer 2011 Updates

Hello there!

When I “left design to pursue teacher certification,” I wrote this big long email and sent it to people as an Update On My Life. But then I didn’t do that when I started AC4D, nor when I graduated. Mostly because there’s no big beginning to announce–just lots of angst as I navigate job interviews, fiscal responsibilities, growing up, and following my heart. But there are a lot of small beginnings that deserve some officialiaty, so without further ado…

I graduated from AC4D.

The program was “interaction design & social entrepreneurship.” Interaction design is the design of systems, services, or technology products. Social entrepreneurship is the creation of businesses with social impact. AC4D combines design + business with the idea that designers can work toward tackling wicked social problems. In addition to learning skills and theory, we took on a 24-week project surrounding homelessness that included ethnographic design research with the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and other Austin orgs, synthesis and ideation, and creating seeds of ventures.

I met amazing people, learned a ton, and co-started Nudge.

ac4d 2011 graduating class

I moved to LA.

A year of long-distance with this guy needed to end.

stina and mike

At first, I didn’t think there would be any opportunities for me here in LA, and I was flirting with SF badly. But I’ve stopped that nonsense. Mike and I found and moved into our own apartment. And I’m meeting a lot of people, and finding the #ixd and #socent communities where I can.

Nudge was chosen as a Rock Health Member Start-Up

Though we were not chosen for the fellowships (who receive mentorship, office space, and money), Nudge is among the 25 “runner-ups” to receive the venture accelerator’s support as well as access to mentors and programming.

We are trying to take full advantage of this honor; it’s “get what you give.” But it’s been difficult not being in SF to rub elbows with the cool people working in and visiting their offices or to attend their programming. We still got a few months to go, though, to make those connections!

(Passing Note: I had no idea what a “venture accelerator” was this time last year and was unclear about what Thinktiv did for months even though that’s where AC4D’ers worked and played.)

I’m interning with Livelyhoods

i Smart sales agents in Kenya

Livelyhoods (formerly known as KITO International) and its Kenyan subsidiary iSmart creates livelihoods for street youth in Kenya by training and employing them as sales agents. As sales agents, they’re able to bring disruptive/innovative new consumer products to hard-to-reach customers in urban slums and educate residents about the products’ uses and benefits.

I’ll be working with their co-founder Maria Springer while she’s Stateside on their Monitoring & Evaluation strategy and possible SMS-system implementation. I’ve also been helping out with their branding and website, since I can.

As of now, I don’t have any trips to Kenya planned, but who knows.

Nudge won a Design Ignites Change implementation award!

We received a grant to implement Nudge with a community health organization in Austin. We’re excited because this means we can develop and implement the system in the next 6 months, but moreso because we’ll get to build this for and with a health organization serving underserved populations — something we probably wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do financially.

Fire’s lit, and we have a lot of logistics to figure out, but YAY!

Other stuff

  • I’m volunteering for SOCAP11, helping Sarah Brooks out with the Design for Social Innovation track as much as I can.
  • Ruby and I are finishing a paper on “Design for Social Change” and how IxD is uniquely suited to solving social problems for the ICID conference in Hong Kong in November. We are also currently planning our trip to HK!
  • Still freelancing and doing contract work here and there. Seems in the cards for me for now.
  • Had a wonderful weeklong vacation in Butte, CA with Mike’s family/stepfamily. They have a cabin in the mountains where you eat lots of good food, play card games, read by the creek, and hike. No cell phone reception, no internet. Felt like myself for the first time in a long time. It was really hard to come back to the INTERNET, and I’m still wary of all the tech in my life. (Shh, don’t tell the #IxD community.) It was also nice to be me and to be around family, without the angst of my current professional choices hanging over my head.
Anyway, I guess some of those aren’t “small” beginnings by any means. Lots of things happening and lots of emotions round these parts. Back to work!

‘Becoming a social entrepreneur is a false objective’

I don’t really know what a social entrepreneur is.  And I don’t let that worry me.  I spent time at Stanford, meeting up with 19 year olds who want to be social entrepreneurs.  But it means nothing as you say – it means nothing to me.  I wanted to say to them – no no no – what do you do?  It [the term ‘social entrepreneur’] doesn’t explain what you do.  And I think the objective of becoming a social entrepreneur is a false objective.  I think you need to find a passion that really drives you.  And whether you become a social entrepreneur is second.  It’s like fame – it can cloud everything up.  You do what you do and if it makes you famous then fine, but don’t go out with a false end game.  You have to earn it – I don’t know if you can learn it.  I mean, you can learn the mechanics of it.  Elevator pitches, business plan, how to run an organization.  I actually wrote a blog post about the mechanics versus the passion of social enterprise.  But I think you have to get out in the world, and find something about which you say – holy cow, that’s wrong.  But you can’t hand that feeling out in university, if you’re lucky enough to discover it.  So am I a social entrepreneur?   If they can convince me that I am then that’s fine.  But it has no impact.

~Ken Banks, founder of, in an interview at Social Enterprise Exchange

Conformity and the Decline Effect

Be aware of groupthink—especially in groups you’re already affiliated with. Question the group, so that false majorities don’t arise from default. Here is an interesting video that sums up past research on conformity. (via Brainpicker)

Although I guess we should also question the findings of lots of quantitative scientific research, according to this New Yorker article explaining the decline effect—seemingly significant research data tends to fade over time yet scientists, journals, and the general public tend to uphold the previous data and publish new research that reconfirm old findings.

Some thoughts on how these might also apply to qualitative research as well.

  • it’s hard to prove anything.
  • we seek out significance and difference and insight, even in single stories and incidences,
  • & we look further for things that reconfirm our initial hypotheses and insights…
  • therefore, when we are researching people, we have to be careful to not let the archetypal stories become the only stories. we have to design for the complexity/variety of individuals even as we look for patterns among many and find focus in an opportunity area.
  • the way research is presented is as important as the research itself.
  • more transparency about methods and processes is crucial to the industry(s).
  • if we’re doing design research & synthesis in a group, simple ideas tend to stick. once a strong story is told or a catchy phrase is hatched, it gets repeated over and over again, and the nuances of the initial research data may get lost.
  • luckily, the empathetic insights gained from design and other kinds qualitative research have already resonated and can inform future creative work.

Thembi’s Diary

We’ve been doing a lot of design research at AC4D. Yesterday, my partner Kat and I talked to women at drop-in day resource Trinity Center and at the Lifeworks Young Moms and Babies shelter. It was really amazing to hear their stories and to just have long conversations with some cool women. Actually, one of the young moms looked and sounded so much like one of my close friends, it was a little distracting.

It was a pretty striking contrast between the tone of our morning conversations (frustration, injustice, and focused around homelessness) and that of our evening conversations (hope, support, and focused around goals).

I feel like we learned a lot, even if the results of our research will be really simple statements of design criteria. On the one hand very obvious stuff about how to support people, and on the other hand obviously not obvious enough because it’s not happening—it’s the human-scale common sense we lose when things scale, or when we make assumptions in our work, or when we don’t take the time to step back and reflect on the impact of the work that we’re doing.

That’s why “design research” is important. That’s why stories are so important. Here’s a beautiful story about another woman.

Thembi’s Diary is an animation made from a true audio documentary (NPR Radio Diaries). It is recorded by Thembi a South African girl with Aids. Although her disease is harsh for a 17 year old, Thembi talks to her virus every morning. With a calm voice she says that as long as it leaves her alone she will do the same.

What is Home?

When I returned to Austin for the first time after I graduated college and completed a summer internship in DC, I had a job lined up and was about to start my “real life.” As I was looking for an apartment, I was staying at a friend’s place for a few days. I didn’t expect that I would feel so tired simply because I had no place to crash and truly unwind at day’s end. Because I was a guest in their apartment, I was unable to truly let my guard down completely—to be the me I am when no one else is around, and when there’s no risk of anyone else coming around. I still remember that time because that is one of the few times in life when I have understood what “home” meant.

I think about that time a lot now because we are currently researching homelessness at AC4D. Last Sunday, my partner Kat and I spent most of the day out and about. First we went to the Church Under the Bridge (at 7th and 35) to talk to some people. It was cold. We talked to some cool people. We both agreed that we would have never have dubbed them “homeless” had we not met them under the bridge, waiting in line for free food and coffee. The phrase “people who are experiencing homelessness” may sound PC, but it’s how I would describe most of the ARCH “clients” I’ve met over the past couple of weeks.

Church Under the Bridge
had a great conversation with this man, who is currently staying at ARCH
also spoke with a woman who was reading her bible at ARCH

After a quick debrief over lunch at El Sol y La Luna, we spent an hour or two at ARCH talking to a wider range of people and conducting participatory interviews. Kat worked the computer lab for an hour. Even with the break, we were both exhausted afterward.

And here’s the thing—we were able to go away, drive home, and crash back at Kat’s place. Use a nicely tiled restroom, sit down on a couch, make tea, check the internet, and decompress.

This was the first time during our research that the juxtaposition of homelessness and home really hit me. I felt grateful for a non-public restroom, and realized how exhausting it is to have no “home.” It’s not even a physical place; it’s just that feeling of being able to let your guard down without judgment or hassle. I didn’t even go back to my own place until late that night, but I was able to spend the evening at Chap’s wonderful home.

It was insightful after a day talking to people who were trying to find “home” again, and it was insightful after realizing that I’ve been neglecting creating my own “home” here in Austin this semester. With Mike two time zones away, and with school and work monopolizing my waking hours, I haven’t had much time to find a new home in Austin.

So “home” for me is:

  • good food with good people
  • friends, old and new
  • good stories and good conversation
  • laughter
  • hanging out, no regard to time
  • warmth (a firepit helps)
  • Mikee
friends & fire

The thing is I almost didn’t go because of my overwhelming to-do list hanging over my head. But I needed this night off, and because of the timing I am also not taking these good people and these good circumstances for granted. And it recharged my creative juices, so that I was able to do my work quicker and better the next morning than if I had tried to plow through it the night before after a long day of research.

Needless to say, I am feeling extremely grateful all around for the people and the experiences in my life these days.

More photos from the evening here.