ac4d workshop

A few weeks ago, I attended a day-long workshop at the Austin Center for Design. The name of the workshop was called Designing for Civic Impact. I was super excited to spend a Saturday applying the design process to solve for a social issue. It was really cool to know that 30 other people also thought this was a good way to spend a Saturday.


Before we began working, we got an overview of the design process. This was important for me, because I’d never quite organized my design research process this way. AC4D breaks their process down into 3 parts.

1. Ethnography

Adding social context to a wicked problem.

This is where you go out into the field and get the data. In order to solve a problem, you must understand it from many angles. The people you’re serving, the stakeholders you’re working with, and the experts in the space.

2. Synthesis

Making meaning through inference and reframing.

Synthesis is taking research and breaking it down into consumable parts, and building it back up into meaning. When you interview as many people as most projects require, it involves a lot of breaking down in order to find common themes.

3. Prototyping

Hypothesis validation through denerative, form-giving activities

Once you have themes and are able to derive insights through those themes, you have a foundation to build your ideas on.

Now that we understood how the day was going to go, we were given our issue to solve. Gentrification.



An issue consists of many problems, and suring this part, it was time to identify the problems you need to solve. Sometimes you think you know the answers, but you may not.


We were to establish focus by brainstorming 5 open-ended questions related to assigned topic. Then, each group as to leave the studio, find experts on our problem, and talk to them. There were three roles.

  • Moderator: primary point of communication
  • Photographer: take pictors unobtrusively
  • Notetaker: document and support moderator

We took turns rotating these roles so we all got experience doing it. During this phase, I got the chance to ask why, a lot. The most interesting challenge was to ask questions that were informative, but not leading. This phase takes a long time because finding people who are willing to open up to you that way is difficult.


Once we had talked to a few different people in East Austin, we had information that we could synthesize. To start this off, we turned interview clips into what are called utterances through a process called transcription. This was a challenge to define as a group, so we skipped the rule-setting and just each went for it since we didn’t have a lot of time. I broke down mine into much smaller parts than the other folks in my group. But that’s one thing I would have done differently with more time. Once we had about 100 sticky notes full of utterances, we groups simiilar ideas, called themes. Then, you interpret through these themes your own lens, which transforms them into insights. The final form is a provocative statement of truth about human behavior, and it may be wrong, but is stated as a fact.


Prototyping is also iterative process consisting of

  • Building models
  • Making things
  • Testing things
  • Trying new things

The first thing you’d want to do is write a story. This adds context to an insight, puts more detail and reality to the otherwise highly abstract, and allows for a framework to test your concepts. Concepts are a combination of a design pattern and an insights, and a design pattern is simply something that’s working in the world. For example, media streaming, the sharing economy, or digital nomadism. So in order to prototype, we created concepts by combining a set of design patterns and insights.


  • Come up with an idea based on combining our design patterns (on blue sticky notes) with your insights (on green sticky notes)
  • Pass them around and “yes, and” other peoples ideas

Although I know the content was very abridged, I feel like this day deepened my understanding of Austin, TX and the design research process as a whole. I wanted to write this blog post because I start a new job tomorrow, where I will be coming in to the second phase of this process, and I feel like going back over this really helped me refresh on that.

More on that soon!