Dear Future UOCD Student - Get Collaborative

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.


An "artsy" shot of our ideation web

An "artsy" shot of our ideation web

Dear future UOCD student,

So Phase 2. Suddenly, we were no longer wandering around aimlessly in the minds/lives (and often times, offices) of our people group, rather we were looking for real ways to change their lives. That said, it was important to make sure these “ways” weren’t “too real”. 

One of my favourite ideas (that we didn’t end up going with because of a myriad of reasons that I will get into later) was one related to mental health. Here’s how it went down:


After our interview with the Massachussetts Legal Aid Corporation, someone on the user visit commented that MLAC seemed like an awfully dreary place to work. Perhaps it was the weather that day or the overwhelming use of (at most) three different shades of grey, but I couldn’t help but nodd in agreement. The comment hung in the air for a moment before we launched into a discussion about Olin’s oranges versus Babson’s (insider tip: Olin has better oranges).

Throughout the remainder of Phase 1, the notion that being a public defender/working legal aid meant making a profound sacrifice kept popping up in various interviews and user visist. To me, this didn’t quite add up. Why is it that helping others defend their basic cival rights requires a “bleeding heart” type figure willing to give up their own emotional health and a life of luxury? Shouldn’t it be our imperative as members of society be to make helping others as easy as possible? 

During one of our pen-twirling ideation sessions, the issue of mental health came up. Perhaps it was in the wake of the email about the dogs coming to campus or some other arbitrary event, with that, all 5 member of my team were suddenly obsessed with the idea of bringing in a petting zoo — but of course the hypoallergenic kind. 

As ridiculous as it sounded, we decided we were all tired and deluded enough to run with it (and hopefully have some fun along the way). With that, we were brainstorming ways to collaborate with the team working with animal shelter workers next to us, ways to bring therapy dogs into all types of different contexts. After a while, the time we had allotted for the meeting elapsed and we packed up our things and left the studio. The next morning we came in, ready to work on our “proper ideas”. 


Fast forward a couple weeks, somehow we ended up staring our ideation bored (lovingly named the “conspiracy map”) and we refocused on the notion of improving mental health for our people group. Not quite sure why, but the comment that had been made suddenly came back to me: “it seemed like an awfully dreary place to work”. 

So this begged the question of what does a place that isn’t dreary look like? And what made it non-dreary?

Now this was a much easier question to answer. In the recent decades, there has been considerable hype about the magic that Silicon Valley. From Google’s napping pods, to Facebook’s laser cutter and food court, to Airbnb’s apartment inspired conference rooms — “cool places to work” were plentiful. 

Airbnb's super cool offices

Airbnb's super cool offices

With that we arrived at our co-designed office space idea.


After a few co-design sessions, it became clear that this was a solution that was both too “inside the box” and “outside of the box” at the same time. It was something that would require significant infrastructure investment capital from our users yet even in the best case scenarios, the change would be insignificant. With that, our brilliant lightbulb idea went out.


It’s always a little sad to realize that the idea you had been sure was “the one” was nothing more than a lot of fanfare. But this remains my favourite idea. 

It taught me to realize that building something great for you user really has very little to do with finding the right solution, rather, it was a matter of finding the right problem. Once you have found the root cause of a pain point, the number of possible solutions is practically infinite. Treating each idea as an inconsequential whim was essential to our entire ideating process. We are working with a user group with incredibly high stakes and as a result, suddenly our design process gained a lot of weight and gravity.

In some ways, this was exactly the trajectory we needed to take. Ideating should never be a serious exercise, for when we are serious, we prematurely place constraints on what is and isn’t possible. Instead, think back to when you were a child and your answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up” was “space ballerina”. 

Be daring enough to be ridiculous — it’s where the magic happens.