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.

Dear Future UOCD Student - Get Curious

Description as per instructors: 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.


Stock photo of "design"

Stock photo of "design"

When asked, I now proudly declare that I have been a “designer” for a little over a year now (followed by a story about how I’ve been doing this whole graphic design thing since middle school so as to give myself some semblance of legitimacy). But it wasn’t until a couple months ago that I even started using this label comfortably. There was always something about the way I did what I did that made me feel like using the word “designer” was superficial. It felt as though there was some element that I just hadn’t quite grasped -- like I was pretending to be part of an elite group with little to no actual knowledge of what being part of said group actually meant. 

Learning the technical skill required to make a beautiful line in Adobe Illustrator or snapping shapes to a grid in Sketch are all tangible skills that usually take no more than a couple months to master. But in the hands of a designer these programs suddenly seem so much more powerful. I am lucky enough to have witnessed the power of design. The magical, innate, allusive ability of these individuals to create things that work. It pains me a little to admit just how much I have come to rely on the now cliche Steve Jobs quote: “design is not just what it looks like and feels like, it’s how it works”. This quote -- to me -- captures that shared secret that all designers seem to understand. It took me a couple years to figure out that perhaps this is why I’ve always felt like part of the uninitiated, desperate to become one of the “cool kids”. 

I never quite figured out how to make something work. 

As a Babson student, I’ve grown used to the mindset that being innovative is either a trait you have or you don’t. There are the great innovators like Steve Jobs and David Kelley and then there’s us -- those who were not blessed with this natural talent to magically figure exactly what people want. I enrolled in UOCD essentially on a whim. I’ve heard my best friend (who now works as a product designer) gush out every aspect of this course and figured I might as well give it a shot. And before I knew it, I was sitting across from a neatly dressed man, sipping on a hot latte, talking about what it meant to be a lawyer and how pro bono work has changed his life. 

The user group that my team chose was legal aids and public defenders. In recent years, this field has become highly romanticized (with shows like Suits and movies like A Few Good Men) as a noble, intense profession, filled with dramatic scenes and sweeping declarations. It is perhaps precisely this widespread misunderstanding of the legal profession that led me to my most profound discovery yet.

“I actually hate going to court”.

Those 6 words suddenly drew my attention away from the hustle and bustle of the typical downtown Starbucks environment around us and back into the conversation. For a lawyer, this seemed like such an unnatural statement. Courtroom dramas are named such because the intensity and excitement are distilled into eloquent opening speeches and targeted cross examinations delivered in the courts. Yet here we were, talking to a man who loved being a lawyer but hated going to court.

As it turns out the modern court system is incredibly antiquated in several ways. The most prominent of which is the notion that all parties of all cases to be heard on a particular day were to arrive at 9:00am. In other words, lawyers would often spend hours upon hours sitting in a room (in which cell phones and laptops were prohibited) waiting for their case to be called. This incredibly dreary side was edited out by TV producers and thus edited out of our lives.

Suddenly, it all made sense to me. Designers can do what they do not because they were superhuman -- in fact it was precisely the opposite -- designers were so incredibly human (in the most average sense of the word). Everything these legendary designers create centered around people. It is this innate curiosity to understand people throws the halo around products from IDEO and Continuum. 

Perhaps this was why I had always felt like an outsider to this group of legends: I never quite grasped that to understand the deepest, darkest secret of design, all I had to do was listen.



Philipa Yu