Liz Sanders brought her expertise into the studio to share her wisdom on MakeTools (a form of generative research). With a bachelors in both psychology and anthropology coupled with a PhD in Experimental and Quantitative Psychology, Liz has a strong understanding of how to employ human-centered design to address environmental, social, and cultural problems. She is a specialist and pioneer in generative research, where methods and tools are used to physically build concepts.


This method invites users to explore concept design with flexible materials. These materials usually range from images on paper, to hand-held foam models, to full size scale models that replicate a real environment. Users are given materials to design concepts, explore ideal features, and explain intended use. This informs the design of concepts.

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As Liz spoke about how her arsenal of materials for her research method range from 2-D  to full scale spaces, I asked her how she determines which style to use when working with clients. She responded by saying that it is usually incremental. Most clients aren’t ready for three dimensional representations of objects, much less full scale rmodels. Liz said that she usually begins her client relationship with simple tools to help them become familiar with her methods. Then she slowly moves from 2-D to 3-D as they become more familiar with the technique. All of her methods are valuable regardless of scale, but the closer to real life the tools are, the more valuable the research.

Learn more about Liz Sanders and MakeTools here.

After browsing the visually wonderful Petrolicious site, I watched the above video. It’s seven and a half minutes capturing a man’s relationship with his car. James Chen describes the details about what makes this vehicle unique and shares a deep appreciation for the Italian exotic.

The morning ritual he describes would seem cumbersome to average drivers, and would most likely never strengthen the sale of a Toyota Yaris, but to him, it’s all part of the experience. He even goes on to liken it to foreplay. “It is not something to be hurried.” It’s all part of the experience of driving the Ferrari Lusso. Charles Eames is quoted for saying “the design is in the details” and in the case of the Lusso, it is the voids that enhance the experience (much like in music). There is no radio or A/C but those are welcomed deletes in the vintage exotic. From 2:34 to 3:05 you can see why.

This is a wonderful example of appreciation for good design. The Lusso is by no means the fastest Ferrari and probably would not be considered the best looking, but the formula that makes up the little red automobile is just right for James Chen. A lot of that has to do with the details that make driving the vehicle not just another pedestrian activity but rather a fulfilling automotive experience. While my automotive interests usually stay on this side of the pond, I can appreciate James’ passion for his driving experience. Now stop reading and watch the video!

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Dominic Prestifilippo and Heather Nero of andCulture came by the studio to talk about stakeholder mapping. This was an exercise that does what an org chart does not. In stakeholder mapping, people who are relevant to your project are mapped out using an X,Y axis. The two axis can represent different variables, but usually they are labeled interest and influence. This activity helps identify commonalities between stakeholders and how to focus efforts.

After introducing the concept, we put the method to use. Dominic and Heather gave use a scenario to employ stakeholder mapping. The scenario was that a university has hired us to start a recycling program. We needed to map out key stakeholders and explain their influence to the project. Since this was a mock-project, the information was speculative but it was a great way to employ the method. The x axis represented interest in the project while the y axis represented power.

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I worked with Meghan in this stakeholder mapping exercise. We placed university administration members higher along the y axis while students where lower. Outside interest groups were placed to the far right of the x axis while janitorial staff were place toward the origin because new recycling methods would likely increase their work load. Once the map was complete, we had a good idea of where sources of support could be found and who influential people are that need to be considered in the project.

Stakeholder mapping is a useful tool to understand how different people relate to a project. Dominic and Heather also mentioned how a stakeholder map can be brought to the stakeholders for validation. This can then open up discussion in different stakeholders perceive where other parties fall on the map.

My thesis work has been wrapping up quite nicely. Over the past year and a half I have helped an academic health center employ design which has required significant culture change. The projects evolved from re-designing services offered by the organization to designing opportunities for employees to redesign their own work. These latter efforts have taught employees innovation and design thinking, to empower them to design for themselves. These new teachings deviate from cultural norms and have had a hard time sticking after they are learned. I am happy to say that my most recent model for building an innovative culture has shown an improved understanding and application of the learning. At the same time, this has seen a ripple effect as it has spread throughout the organization.

I designed a strategy to support the learning of innovation beyond the bootcamps where the methods are taught. This strategy, employed a designer to support the work of a team who recently attended an innovation workshop. This role would help guide the team as it worked through a problem but not lead or take charge of the team. This strategy was created from my research on understanding culture change.

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I am currently working on the documentation for the whole project, but I want to share some data I gathered from the work. A the beginning of the team collaboration, I administered a survey to get an understanding of the team’s competence in innovation. I then administered the same survey afterward to see if there was a difference in how comfortable the team felt about employing innovative thinking. The data is divided by how the organization describes innovation in four components (gaining insights, defining the problem, exploring solutions, and rapid validation). The results are below.

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Comparing the data side-by-side reveals several discoveries that highlight the impact of this role. Because nurses talk to patients everyday, the cardiovascular care team always felt very comfortable with talking to people about there experiences. The greatest change was seen in the teams comfort with gaining insights. This can be attributed to their new understanding of the use of qualitative data. The area that saw the least change was in problem definition. Future supporting roles should aim to strengthen support here. There was significant growth in the team’s comfort in rapid validation. The team not only learned the importance of testing concepts but also the value of failed ideas.

While the team clearly improved their abilities in the work from this project, they also effected the culture around them. One of the team members said that another unit within the health center saw the project they were working on and said they wanted to do the same thing. They then shared their work with the other unit and it is acting as a foundation for a similar project they are working on. Here we see the spread of innovation without employees having to attend a workshop. At the same time, another one of the team members was working with a separate team on an unrelated project. She said that she has been able to apply these same skills to that project which has greatly improved her work. Again, innovation is spreading throughout the culture, causing change.

It has been very clear that the organization has valued this strategy as it has seen the benefits both in quality of the work, and the spread of the learning, but sustaining the role is an entirely different issue. It has been proven that a supporting role can help sustain the change that is being taught in innovation bootcamps, but how can the role itself be sustained? I am currently working with the organization to identify how this role can continue to support their work. If we can workout a scenario where more designers can support more teams, whether that involves graduate level designers or professionals, then I would consider that to be sustainable change.


Meredith Warner from The Action Mill stopped by the studio to introduce a synthesis tool for my independent study. This method helps externalize the current state of a situation with a “heaven” and “hell” state that represent the future. You then bridge the gaps between the future states, working backwards, with the steps that get you there. The heaven state represents what it is you are trying to achieve while the hell state represents that which you are trying to avoid. This activity has not constraints regarding time or amount of post-its used. The only rule is that you can only write one idea per post-it.

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You begin by creating a grouping of post-its the represent the state. Here, fellow MiD students Meghan and Lonnie worked on their thesis project. The problem they were trying to solve for was a disengaged community that has difficulty organizing and initiating projects to improve their environment. They started the furture backwards exercise by using yellow post-its to represent their current state.

They you start to build a line of post-its into the past. This begins with a recent event in the immediate past and you continue to work backwards.

You then create your “heaven” and “hell” states. These are two separate clusters off to the right of your current state cluster. First you establish the “heaven state” (blue post-its) and then the “hell state” (red post-its). Lonnie and Meghan’s “heaven state” has post-its stating “100% employment” and “full community engagement” while their “hell state” contained post-its like “completely abandoned” and “families driven out.”

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Then, you work backwards from the “heaven state” beginning with the most immediate event that would occur right before getting to the “heaven state.” Then you continue backwards, toward the cluster of yellow post-its, until you reach the current state. You then do the same exercise for the “hell state.” During this process, you can include potential obstacles or dissaters that might occur within each heaven and hell path. The end result should bridge the heaven and hell states to the past state by going through the current state.

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I think the value of the exercise is not so much the lovely collage of post-its but the conversation that occurs during creation. As Lonnie and Meghan worked through the exercise, they talked about each part of the process, discovering differences in how they understood the past, present, and future of their project. By the time they finished the activity, they had a better understand of each others understanding and expectations for the project. This seems like an effective way to make a more cohesive team when working on a project.

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As part of an independent study, Rob Tannen from Bressler Group came to the studio to talk about Ethnography. As an expert in ethnographic research, he shared his techniques on how to make insight discoveries during research. This was especially helpful because there is a lot of data to gather in interviews beyond just the spoke words. An acronym he introduced to us was and A-E-I-O-U-Y guide to documenting non-verbal behaviors.


Mr Tannen also continued by dissecting the pros and cons of interviewing. He shared some of the the pros of interviewing to be that they help gain a better understanding of the vocabulary and context that the individual is working/interacting. Interviews are usually scheduled time slots so they can be more manageable form of research as opposed to immersing yourself in an environment for an extended period of time. However, there are some constraints to interviewing. One significant obstacle  is that wat people say does not always equate to how they behave. Behaviors are also complex and difficult to describe. In most cases these behaviors must be casually observed to get a more accurate understanding. This type of casual observation speaks more toward an ethnographic interviewing style vesus the traditional interview.

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Researching human behavior has proven to be quite challenging. Rob Tanen’s insights have been helpful in clarifying the importance of looking beyond spoken answers. I think this highlights the value of using ethnographic research methods when researching human behavior instead of using traditional interviewing styles or even surveys to gather data. Those might be good at gathering quantifiable data but they can’t always capture the qualitative data that influences how & why people behave the way they do.


Some people consider a culture to be a state of sophistication such as when we say some is very cultured. Anthropologists consider culture to be the customs and rituals that define a society. When exploring organizational cultures, we are using a different definition altogether. Edgar Shein defines culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” We understand that culture is shared basic assumptions within a group, however, Edgar also acknowledges that their are different levels of culture. This is where organizational culture is distinguished from other sized cultures and understanding that to change an organization’s culture, there are other cultures that too need to see change.

Edgar Schein describes four types of cultures; macrocultures, organizational cultures, subcultures, and microcultures. Macrocultures are large cultures that span beyond organizations. Examples of these include religious cultures, industry cultures, and national identities. The world of academic healthcare centers is a macroculture. What defines this is the shared basic assumptions that are true across the industry so that an organization like the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota shares cultural similarities with the John Hopkins Institue in Baltimore.


Within macrocultures, there are organizational cultures. These are the shared basic assumptions that make two organizations in the same industry different from one another. What is a cultural norm at John Hopkins might not be acceptable at the Mayo Clinic and vice versa. Subcultures are defined by the basic assumptions within different departments. This is what distinguishes cultural norms in HR from accounting. This is because the subcultures are different. Even more granular than subcutures are microcultures. This is what is true for small groups within departments.


Edgar Schein defines three different types of subcultures according to where they fall in a traditional heirarchy. At the top are the “executives.” These are the people who are responsible for the financial health of the organization. The executive culture determines what “is” and “is not” within the organization. This group is made up of c-suite executives. Next, there are the “designers/engineers.” This culture is responsible for determining how things are going to get done within the culture. This subculture is usually made up of managers. Then their are the “operators” and this is where the “what” and “how” actually happen.


When new methodologies or learnings are introduced into organizations (in my case innovation) they need support from the executive subculture. They are responsible for saying “okay, we are going to make learning about innovation a priority.” This then allows the designers/engineers to teach people about innovation. In my experience, the designers/engineers are experts in innovation, and they introduce the new methodologies in bootcamps, workshops, and roadshows. This is how the operators learn about their new subject. However, getting the operators to apply the learning is a large hurdle to jump over.

As we understand there to be different subcultures within an organization, proposing a new method of doing work directly effects the employees at the front-line (operators). Because of this, new methodologies should consider the subcultures that already exist as they are being introduced. This will help improve the uptake of new learnings and ease the process of applying new learning to an already established subculture.


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