Design Systems Thinking Post 4

Essentially, design systems thinking is a method of problem solving. This quarter we learned that too often solutions are born from shallow thinking and that only a small aspect of the problem was addressed. Design systems thinking is a mindset that allows the designer to think of the big picture rather than the single problem. The reason it is essential to think this way is to avoid missing the real issue. You want to create something that will be sustainable. It reminds me of a conversation I had with Micah and Jordan where they were talking about the problem of Americans who go on mission trips abroad and they build churches in foreign countries but as soon as they leave, the churches they build so often are left unoccupied because there’s no one there/no resources to sustain it. I think it was Micah who brought up the point that if we really wanted to solve something, we should be spending money to provide jobs abroad rather than using it to send ourselves over so we can feel like we did a good deed. What I’m trying to get at is that you really have to think about the problem as a whole and really analyze all of the different angles.

Especially if you want to design for social change, you have to think deeply. I went on Aiga’s website and as I was browsing some case studies, this one in particular really stood out to me.

In this example, designers thought about a new approach to solving hunger and created a campaign to change the way we perceive charities and donating. Their idea was based off the notion that a lot of people felt that “nothing could end hunger” and as a result they decided to do a play on meaning and change that. What they really did, was essentially they made the problem the solution! They used their campaign to appeal to a  younger audience and also to spread awareness, and according to the case study, the project was highly effective.


Design Systems Thinking Post 3

Building A Culture of Design Research

The article I read for this week primarily focused on the lack of design research within the profession. This is first an issue because design has no research database, no common understanding of what is meant by research, and no unified theory guiding practice. For example, the article points out that that if this were the field of medicine, the obvious place to look for research is the practice. They use patient statistics to gain useful information about different treatments and diseases. But design is completely different and has no such information to relate to.

Another problem is that the majority of American design students (or at least the ones that were surveyed for this article) don’t think of this as a pressing issue. The majority of the students answered “no” when asked  whether they think there needs to be some sort of unified theory of design guiding research. This might come from the fact that there seems to be a large discrepancy between what students are being taught and what really matters in the worlds of design; but also because design is changing, and “is no longer at the cosmetic end of a decision-making food chain but a necessary partner with a variety of disciplinary experts.” The text also gives the example of an undergrad student who was working on designing something for a social movement on campus. After talking to that student the author realized that he had learned about the production aspect of his task but was still lacking the basic knowledge of how to implement his design for change. The author notes that this is all the unfortunate outcome of when students are only taught to focus on “formats and graphic
identity, not about how to achieve change in a social system through design.”

The text points to another flaw in the classroom, and that is in the graduate programs. It says that in some cases, graduates are actually still taught with the undergrads doing the same work, and are simply expected to preform better than their less experienced cohorts. It seems crazy to me that someone would spend so much time and money to go back to school where they should be gaining so much more knowledge, but in this case, are still just doing the same type of work as they did when they were undergrads.

Works Cited: Davis, Meredith. “SEGD.” Pat. NC State University, 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Design Systems Thinking Post 2

For this week’s post I read a portion of Visual Research that focused on the methodology of design thinking.

I love this visual of the research process. You start with a problem and you come full circle once you resolve it, but only after you go through many steps of researching.

I love this visual of the research process. You start with a problem and you come full circle once you resolve it, but only after you go through many steps of researching.

As you can see, the obvious first step in any design process is defining your problem. You can’t successfully design something if you don’t have anything to achieve. Knowing what you need to solve is a critical part of design. The text suggests that once you receive your project brief, you can break it up into three different areas to investigate: a field of study, a project focus, and a research methodology.

  1. Field of study: This is looking at who your broad audience is. “Where will the work be situated and what function will it fulfill?” This means that as a designer, you have to make yourself familiar with what already exists in the field. Consider both the external and internal positions that the work will take on and the target audience you are hoping to speak in to. In most cases sophisticated visual languages already exist and it is critical to become familiar with their vocabulary.
  2. The project focus: “What will the specific context and function of the work be within the wider field of study already defined?” At this step, you take what you’ve collected from your field of study research and you continue to narrow your focus for what will best serve your specific project.
  3. Research methodology: “How will the designer go about researching and developing the project in response to the context and intention outlined above?” A designer’s research methodology is simply giving themselves a set of rules to follow in order to get the outcome they desire. You should give yourself deadlines and goals to meet and begin to experiment and prototype your designs.

Works Cited: Noble, Ian, and Russell Bestley. Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design. Lausanne: AVA, 2005. Print.

Design Systems Thinking Post 1

Once again its a new quarter and the content of my blog will be switching gears. For today’s post I read an article called Design Thinking for Social Innovation by Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt that you can find here.

They talked about how traditionally designers focused on improving the look and functionality of their product and how instead, design thinking “addresses the needs of the people who will consume a product or service, and the infrastructure that enables it.” It is meant to solve the problems that would have been overlooked with typical problem solving.

Rather than a sequence of steps to follow, the design thinking process is better thought of three different spaces that overlap one another. These are: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. 

“Think of inspiration as the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions; ideation as the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas; and implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.”

Once the designer has identified the inspiration, often the next biggest challenge is figuring out what is needed. I thought it was really interesting that the article described just how hard that was. They talked about how often, focus groups and surveys don’t actually help you address a need, but rather the wants of the people. If you only address that, you are only going to make small incremental change rather than something truly innovative and ground breaking. I loved their example of Henry Ford, and how he said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me faster horses.”

The next thing to consider is research. Lots and lots of research. The article gives several examples of solutions that could have been good, but missed the mark in an at first subtle, but very significant way. The first example was of a village in India that relies on drinking water from a well. There is a family that lives closer to a well that is not as safe as the treatment center and even though the treatment center is a great resource, the design has a tragic flaw. It was designed in a way where families who live too far do not have able means of transporting 5 gallons back to their home. This highlights the importance of researching different cultures and really trying to look at all the different angles. I also loved the quote they pulled from Linus Pauling, which is, “to have a great idea you must first have lots of ideas.”

And then finally, implementation is pretty straight forward. Its committing to your idea and putting it into action. The most important part of this design space is prototyping. The purpose of prototyping is getting your ideas into motion and testing them before you have to make a final draft. It allows you to find the flaws in your system before it’s too late.

Works Cited: Brown, Tim, and Jocelyn Wyatt. “Design Thinking for Social Innovaton.”Stanford Social Innovation Review (2010): 31-35. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

Information Design Post 6


This weekend I spent a few hours at the Woodland Park Zoo doing an assignment for my biology class. When I was looking for an example of information design for this blog, it wasn’t long before I spotted the zoo map sitting on the other side of my desk. I thought it might be fun to use this map as my first example because I really did think it was well designed and not only that, but I had relied on and interacted with it for a few hours just yesterday. The first thing to consider when staring at this map is it’s audience. If you think about it, it’s quite expansive. Zoo visiters are people of all ages (lots of children and parents) and there were many times we heard people speaking languages other than english. That being said, the map has to be pretty simple for the amount of information it covers, and I really think it doesn’t a good job. The fact that it’s image based lets the user find whatever animal they want so that you barely even need to read it, which would be especially helpful for the kids. All in all, it was an easy to use map that got the job done, and it isn’t an eyesore either.

For my second example I thought I would stick with the map theme. This is a design I found from designspiration that depicts Manhattan and it’s various skyscrapers. While if I were actually on the streets of NYC right now and this was the only thing I had to work with, I would probably be a little worried. I’m not sure what the exact context for this map is but I love the idea of using shapes that look dimensional on this usually flat type of design. I like this design because it breaks away from the typical notion of what a map should be and it displays the information of which building is where in a very beautiful way. While I’m not as convinced this would work as an actual navigational map, I think it would be excellent if it were actually made in a 3-D model or could at least be viewed as such.

Information Design Post 5

The History Of Vaccines from Killer Infographics on Vimeo.

So far in my blog posts I’ve looked at a lot of flat, two dimensional information design. This week, since we are moving on to animation in our projects at school, I thought that I would mirror that in my blog post. Here’s an example by Killer Infographics on the History of Vaccines that I thought did an amazing job. I thought it was very successful in engaging the viewer and also portraying the facts in a really clear and easy to understand way. Something we had talked about in class is the option of using a script vs. making an animation that only uses music and sound fx. I thought this video did a good job mainly relying on a script but still incorporating sound fx when necessary. It made it so that the viewer was still able to hear all the information but also watch the animation and stay engaged. Being able to hear and watch at the same time really reinforced the message and it was a lot more interesting to watch than if the artist had big chunks of type to read. Something else that I really appreciated about this animation is the fact that they used a lot of imagery to express their ideas. The audience never got bored staring at a bunch of charts and numbers but instead the video did a great job accurately showing the data creatively.

2015-02-24 21.41.32

My second infographic is completely unrelated to my first, but I thought it might be interesting to evaluate since its not in english. One of my good friends went to Korea a few months ago and brought home a few face masks for me as a souvenir. My photo shows the entire back side of the packaging and as you can see, probably about 75% of it is all text, and only a small portion is imagery. However, even though I can’t read a word of Korean I found that this didn’t really matter since I was still able to understand the message this graphic was trying to depict. Even though this graphic isn’t all that great aesthetically, it was still effective, and when it comes down to it, accurate and easy to follow instructions are much more valuable than beautiful, overly decorative designs that are hard to understand. For most projects we pretty much take for granted that our target audience is similar to us, but keeping in mind that there may be other demographics looking at your work is important too. Being able to transcend language barriers is a huge accomplishment in design.

Information Design Post 4


This week I thought I would look into a different type of information design. I pulled this image from my biology textbook, which demonstrates the concept of osmosis. An extremely important part of infographics is that it can help visualize very abstract concepts in a way that helps most people make sense of it. For example, I asked one of friends who is a biology major to help me with some bio homework and I had no idea what she was talking about when she tried to verbally explain osmosis to me. It wasn’t until she started drawing pictures for me that I really understood it. Again, for this type of information design, the audience is very broad. Textbook illustrations are meant to help beginners understand complex ideas in a simplified manner.

This type of information design will always make me remember back to several years ago when I attended a lecture from visiting guest speakers Kristine Johnson and David Elhert from Cognition Studio. I was just a sophomore at the time, I hadn’t even applied to the visual communication major and barely had any idea what the field of design could do, and I can still remember how impactful this lecture was. Cognition Studio does a lot of amazing work and part of what they do is scientific storytelling:

“Science is complex. Clarity is essential.

The pharma, biotech, and healthcare industries require accurate visual stories to make their complex science, products, and services understandable. Storytelling strengthens our client’s sense of agency by addressing their unique problems and opportunities with strategic creative solutions. We ask the whys, hows and what ifs that a target group may want to know… “listening” to their interests and needs before we craft a unique science story. Done well, our solutions are the conduit through which complex scientific findings transform into clear, compelling stories.” (

A specific example I found on their website was an illustration they did for Swedish Medical Center outlining Moyamoya Surgical Procedures. See and read the whole thing here: I can’t share the images here but I encourage you to click that link and check them out! They did an amazing job visualizing several different surgical procedures and it really shows you the value of illustration and information design. This can be a fatal disease and obviously surgery is extremely risky, so for surgeons and even patients to be able to visually see what they’re dealing with is an incredibly powerful tool.

Lastly, since I couldn’t include an image for my second example I thought I’d share this last piece as well.

This is actually an interactive piece so I encourage you to check it out here to get the full experience:

But basically what this artist is doing is representing different definitions of what consciousness is. Again, consciousness is not something that can be easily represented visually. It’s not a tangible thing that can we see or touch, and it was completely up to the artist to come up with visual solutions to represent each idea.

Explaining ideas and getting other people to understand complex thoughts are not always easy to translate, but good design is the perfect visual aid.