Dear Future UOCD Student - Get Ambitious

Instructor's Description: Your UOCD experience is a journey through a complex design process. It's an experience filled with ups-and-downs, surprises, challenges, you name it! To allow you a space to further explore your experiences, we are asking you to develop 3 blog posts over the course of the semester, one for each phase of UOCD.

You might even imagine that you are writing them for the new UOCD blog site....informally called that is targeted towards current, future, and previous UOCD students.



Dear future UOCD student,

This marks the end of this tumultuous journey that has been UOCD. I guess this is where I should try to distill this entire experience down into a single, catchy, deep (but not so deep so as to elude understanding by all others expect for myself) phrase. Quite frankly, being concise has never really been my strength. So here are a couple lengthier sentences that are more poorly worded than they are deep.


So this is probably contrary to just about every productivity hack book out there – I know because I’ve read probably more than my fair share – but bear with me for a moment here. In the real world, having a goal is important. The linear path is always the shortest and most efficient. But design is a whole different ball game. It’s not about efficiency; it’s about the magic of discovery. There is something about letting your mind wander that unlocks a whole different way of thinking. Start off with a blank canvas. I’ve always been someone who loved coming up with a single idea and then fighting it through from the get go. Everything about UOCD forced me to give up this traditional notion of linear thinking and wander off into the unknown. The stranger your ideas are, the better a job you are doing so don’t freak out. Be willing to laugh at your ideas that are straight out of movie (one of our favourite ideation categories was vigilante justice).  


In a lot of ways, this was what made our team as effective as it was at the end of the day. We were that team that would always show up at around 10:15 to our 9:50 class. Now by no means am I advocating for being late (that was greatest pitfall), but more often than not, those 25 minutes “before” class were spent having breakfast. 

We had the (mis)fortune of getting a user group in which the stakes were incredibly high. Because we were trying to empower legal aids, we were struggling with how to help our user group provide a voice for the most vulnerable populations within our community day in and day out. This was rough. The enormity of the scale of our project was both invigorating and intimidating. On a daily basis, we were pushed from “we need something realistic and substantial” to “I give up. Let’s abolish the current justice system”. 

Our biggest saving grace was our team dynamic. We had a group that had grown close over the biweekly breakfasts, team bonding activities, and discussions on how to survive the ghost hiding under Sara Ballantyne’s bed. Between our random side conversations and coffee trips, we were able to lighten the mood just enough to playful with our ideation. This is crucial to whatever use group you get. At some point in UOCD you will inevitably have a “holy cow, we are trying to fundamentally change an entire group’s life”. Keep that in mind, but let it propel you to achieve more creativity rather than weigh you down.


Much like goofing off is important so is the ability to be a bad sketcher. The difference between a sketch and a masterpiece is that the former invites collaboration. Given that the course itself is named “User Oriented Collaborative Design”, you can see how this would be important.

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A poorly drawn idea has this unique ability to encourage the viewer to interact with it and make edits. There is absolutely nothing that will kill and ideating/co-design/refining-of-the-idea-session like a beautifully crafted representation.  


Last but not least, always be that person in the room that asks “but why”. For us, our professors fulfilled this role in our bench top review sessions, but now that I sit here writing this, I wish we had done it to ourselves more often. It’s hard to come up with entirely different answers once you’ve found one or two, but coming up with new questions is so much easier. 

Think back to when you questioned the premise of answers and not the answers themselves. Now do that. Again. And again.


Now that I am done with this class (for the most part), I think the way I interact with my peers has changed. It took me a couple tries in this class but I finally learned that it’s not about understanding the responses to questions, but rather the context that they sit in. UOCD has taught me to be okay with scribbling aimlessly on a blank sheet of paper and asking questions that will probably lead nowhere in particular. I’ve learned to revel in the chaos and trust that everything will work itself out eventually (think: design scribble).

One last piece of advice: Caffeine is your best friend. Forever and always.