Month: July 2020 Page 1 of 4

“With my engineering background, I find it difficult to think big without thinking about the achievable “baby steps” to get there.”

By: Zsofia Walter

The evaluation and testing phase has been difficult. The thought of creating low-fidelity prototypes to test different aspects of the platform, and thinking of phases for that testing made me excited because I could finally see a pathway to where we could actually reach our goal. The difficulty came in consolidating these plans with the short time we have left. We had to accept this time limitation and decide upon the best way to exhibit our idea. With my engineering background, I find it difficult to think big without thinking about the achievable “baby steps” to get there. 

My biggest “aha” moment of this entire program came this week. A big aspect of our platform that we love is recreating the “purposeful wandering” we would normally be able to do. This week we were able to speak to Michael Faber, a senior manager from OIT, and not only was he able to give us insight into the technological feasibility of our platform but also forced me to take a step back from our vision of this interactive map. One thing that he said really stuck with me. He asked if it was the act of physically wandering around Duke that we were trying to recreate, or the feeling students get when they stumble onto something they didn’t know about and find connection. This redefining of the problem made it easier for me to envision low-fidelity testing for our platform.


“It has been difficult to decide on which testing method to pursue because of the sheer amount of ideas we want to incorporate.”

By: Kaelyn Griffiths

The evaluate phase has been the most rewarding time, yet the phase that makes me feel the most anxious. It has been really nice to continue building our vision and sharing that vision with our stakeholders, especially students, but knowing that others may not see the need for our vision has been a scary, recurring thought. As my team has been discussing the best ways to test and evaluate our idea, it has been difficult to decide on which testing method to pursue because of the sheer amount of ideas we want to incorporate. Hearing critiques so far on our ideas has been extremely helpful and we have worked hard to build a team dynamic that invites constructive criticism because we understand that feedback is how we design something that best fits the needs of the intended user.

Our ideas have evolved immensely from highlighting key features we wanted to include in our idea, to putting those ideas in practice by designing a prototype with our stakeholders, to continuing to revise those designs through workshops and feedback. This process has taught me so much about problem solving in the real world, including that it is imperative that while discussing and designing concept ideas, keeping the intended user at the center of discussion and making sure their needs are met is key. My team has done an amazing job with holding each other accountable for that and it has proven to be successful in all the feedback we have received thus far.

I think a recurring challenge has been balancing time and the feeling of responsibility to do our project justice. My team has very big ideas and is looking for a culture shift that prioritizes meaningful and intentional decision-making at Duke, but we understand that time constraints may prevent us from seeing this project completely through. Even the time constraints of the evaluate phase have felt a little overwhelming, but we have been working on scheduling to ensure that we can get enough feedback to prove our concept useful. 


“It’s been hard for me to separate criticism of the product as different from criticism of myself.”

By: Jonathan Browning

This design process has felt like a sprint since the beginning – perhaps that’s the point. But, even though I may have put more hours into the Evaluate phase than any other, something feels less rushed. For me, there’s been this release of tension that I didn’t realize I was carrying. Since our initial design idea – which I guess was only a week ago but feels like months- everything has been curated by myself and my team. That’s not to say we haven’t been trying to get authentic feedback but, in my sessions, I’ve been trying to present our solution in the best light possible – really focusing on the good and emphasizing changes when the bad (or at least, less polished) comes up. Switching to evaluation has allowed us to put our idea into the world and see how it comes across, without us explaining it step-by-step

Part of this is freeing, but part of it also pains me. I can no longer defend or elaborate on the idea when presented with criticism. It’s been hard for me to separate criticism of the product as different from criticism of myself. I want this concept to succeed but I know that solutions only get better when you face the weaknesses. For this reason, I have wholeheartedly embraced iteration because I know that it gets us ever closer to the point where we can say “This could actually make a difference in someone’s life.” 

I’ve learned a lot about using criticism, crafting questions, and evaluation in general. But, most surprisingly, I’ve also learned hard skills involving creative outlets I’ve never used before, including Canva and Photoshop. Open Design has opened me up to learning new skills on the fly and I believe my greatest impact has been in readily embracing these skills.


“After you put so much time and effort into designing a solution that you truly believe will work, it becomes hard to see outside of your perspective.”

By: Florence Wang

Although the “create” stage was difficult because we had to figure out a way to consolidate all of our information and ideas into one solution, the “evaluate” stage was difficult for a completely different reason. For the entirety of this program, we have been pushed to think outside of the box, and really let the design thinking process and open source methodology guide our creativity. However, when tasked with coming up with a tangible testing method, we soon realized that this was much easier said than done. 

We started out by really embodying this idea of co-creation, and reaching out to as many individuals as possible to hear their feedback and then use that to fuel our iterations. This was an extremely valuable process, and it was both refreshing and somewhat uncomfortable to hear critiques about our design. After you put so much time and effort into designing a solution that you truly believe will work, it becomes hard to see outside of your perspective. In a sense, you start to become desensitized to the possible pitfalls of your prototype and you start to view positive feedback as a sort of confirmation bias instead of simply another perspective that can help improve your design. 

However, these conversations with our stakeholders also contributed to a new problem that we as a team faced. We realized that we actually had something. An idea that could potentially be useful for the lives of many individuals. But with that something also comes great responsibility, and we had to show that this something is not only necessary and helpful, but also that it is feasible. However, in order to do so, we needed a solid testing method, and nothing that we came up with seemed to encompass what we were trying to express with our solution and also represent all aspects of our vision. For the first time, I actually started to feel small and incapable–how were we going to do this? We don’t possess the power or skills to create a working prototype so therefore, how are we going to get the buy-in, surpass the technological difficulties, and actually make this “tangible impact” that we have been talking about since the beginning of the program?

I think we started to narrow our scope too much and thought about changing our direction to make it easier to convince people that it is a “good” solution. However, although it was super beneficial to think about our design from a different perspective, ultimately, we needed to remind ourselves of the bigger picture and that it’s okay to have a lower-fidelity prototype. But no matter what, we shouldn’t let our fear of not having a full-on working example of our design take away from certain elements of our vision. 

And finally, through our conversations with those around us, I was able to learn more about human behavior and the thought processes of those I was designing for. I think that for myself and my team, it was a reminder that in the design thinking process, everything is a prototype. Nothing is ever fixed. There is always room for improvement because humans are ever changing creatures and ultimately, humans lie at the heart of our “solutions.”


“User-centered design requires this open dialogue.”

By: Drew Flanagan

The “Evaluate” phase has been tricky because it is very difficult to effectively assess your own design. 

When sharing your design, many people respond very positively, especially those you are close with. Others, maybe colleagues or peers you are less close with, tend to focus heavily on the positives of the design so as to not come across as “too negative” or unwilling. 

To combat this cycle, interestingly, my group has started soliciting anonymous feedback on our work from all members of the Duke community. This method of evaluation is helpful because community members are invested in improving the community, and also, via the online form we made, can be constructive with their feedback without feeling like they are being overly critical.

While the anonymous survey eliminated potential bias, another challenge of “Evaluation” has been making sure to ask the right questions. How do we develop questions for testers that get at our “how might we statement” (the crux of our design) rather than getting distracted with some of the accessories (such as technology used for implementation). Due to this challenge, we have geared our survey to focus specifically on our design and whether or not it meets an individual and community need rather than if it is aesthetically or technically sufficient.

Hearing critiques of our idea has not been easy, but our team has continued to welcome them. User-centered design requires this open dialogue. Though it can feel excessive or unnecessary initially, we always learn something from user testing, even if it’s just an affirmative of existing features or a critique of an aspect we know needs to be improved.

I think I’ve made the most impact in helping my team adapt to feedback and suggested changes. Often, we can get stuck when we are forced to consider a new aspect of our design or modify a feature completely. However, I am proud of my ability to continue to bring the team together to think thoroughly as we adapt to suggestions from users.


“I realized it was the genuine feedback that was allowing us to create truly better iterations of our program. “

By: Arya Patel

The evaluation phase of the design process has really helped me understand how the feedback loop works to improve ideas, though it may be uncomfortable at times. 

I realized that it can be difficult to hear feedback that might interfere with the favorite parts of our idea. I feel like at this stage it is easy to get tunnel vision and not want to really ask the real questions or allow the evaluator to give their honest opinion. I often found myself wanting to cut people off, or correct them, or steer them away from weak points and point them towards our stronger areas. However, as I learned to resist this mindset during our evaluation tests, I realized it was the genuine feedback that was allowing us to create truly better iterations of our program. 

Over time, our idea has contracted and expanded as we took into account different stakeholder perspectives, pain points, and challenges. The evolution of our project design, parallel to the growth of our learning and knowledge, was quite intense and long. However, the outcomes are rewarding. It makes me proud to think we were able to overcome all kinds of challenges and thoughts that were pulling us in every direction to whittle down to a cohesive, interesting and innovative design. 

The most memorable part of this experience were the days when it felt like we were talking in circles around the same idea and then all of a sudden things would click and we would all come together excitedly and be on the same page. I think these moments say a lot about the team’s persistence, hard work, and willingness to work through uncomfortable or frustrating conversations. I am so happy that I got to experience this program with this cohort and my team; all of whom I’ve learned quite a lot from!


“I reminded myself that I enjoyed and embraced design-thinking because it teaches me how to embrace and navigate ambiguity. “

By: Anwuli Onkojo

Moving onto the create phase was exciting because I was not sure what to expect. By the time we had concluded the understanding phase, it still felt like there were gaps in our understanding. I wanted to be absolutely certain that we knew who our persona was and whatever we came up with would fit exactly. But I had to accept that we had done our best, thus far, in getting to know the stakeholders and building our understanding of our persona, and  moving onto creating did not mean that we were detaching from our constituents. Moreover, I reminded myself that I enjoyed and embraced design-thinking because it teaches me how to embrace and navigate ambiguity. 

Moonshot thinking was a useful tool for easing into the ideation process. For some reason most of my initial ideas had to do with space and genies… I didn’t even know I cared about astronomy or genies like that. However, gradually more concrete ideas began to take shape as I thought about the values, culture and problems we’d talked to stakeholders about.  “A Freshman’s Guide to Everything” was the first solid thing I thought of. Something that would be responsive to that exploration period of a Duke student’s life when you really have questions about anything and everything. I remembered that by junior and senior years, students have settled into a more stable sense of self and (for the most part) have some direction to their lives and decisions. But the process of getting there in the first two years was more challenging and anxiety-inducing for more students than it needed to be. 

I threw down as many ideas as I could think of. Some, I knew, would be immediate misses. By the time my team and I got together to discuss the board was completely full with post-it notes of ideas ranging from totally ridiculous to actually kinda cool. Some ideas we spent more time discussing than others and I loved seeing how well some of them naturally fit together. As unsure as I may have been about our level of understanding of the issue, the ideation process revealed common themes and demonstrated that we clearly had a strong shared sense of what we were working on and towards.  

When we got to the Freshman’s Guide to Everything, I was nervous because I thought my teammates would hate it and would not understand it at all. But I decided to do my best to pitch the idea and show how it could tie in with some of the other things we discussed, and how it could reinvent the existing Blue Book. Surprisingly, they loved it! And we were all extremely excited about it. The sense of affirmation and camaraderie I felt was unparalleled in that moment, as my teammates started to build on the idea. I was so excited that in the break I wrote a full fledged pitch, “a freshman’s guide to everything, a sophomore’s scrapbook, a junior’s journal, a senior’s time capsule”. It was the “Aha!” moment Kevin had always talked about. Slowly, the pieces were falling together.  I also realised that one of my strengths was working with my teammates to understand and articulate their ideas, when they may have had something incredible to contribute but were perhaps struggling to really convey it. The create phase, to me, was just as much about solidifying our dynamic as a team as it was about crafting solutions to the problem at hand. It was easy to say “Yes, and…” because I knew that even if the ideas my teammates shared did not fit well with mine exactly at times, we had a shared goal so I could understand the essence of what they were trying to say.


“It was extremely rewarding to hear their insightful, unique takes on their journeys through Duke”

By: Anwuli Onkojo

Unexpectedly, the understanding phase of the design thinking process is my favourite. We began by putting together our stakeholders map.  By the time we were done it seemed like it would be impossible to connect with all the different actors, which left me feeling a bit overwhelmed, but still optimistic. I liked that. As a team we set manageable goals for ourselves; we agreed to try to interview at least two people from each stakeholder category.  

Interviewing people was by far the most fulfilling and enriching experience I’ve had in this program and, possibly this year. When I decided to apply to and attend Duke, it was based on an idea of what Duke was or would be that I had pieced together from websites, admissions officers, YouTube videos and any other source I could get my hands on. Once I arrived, the flurry of activities, the incessant waves of schoolwork, my introverted nature and the general vastness of the Duke population and campus made it difficult to get a true sense of what Duke was and who its people were beyond my very limited bubble. 

The interviewing process was unique because as I spoke to fellow students, faculty and staff, at times I saw myself in their stories and experiences. I found myself reflecting internally alongside my interviewees, while actively practicing de-centering myself so that their narratives would remain the priority. It was challenging but I dealt with it by giving myself time after particularly in-depth interviews to sit and think about my own responses. I especially enjoyed speaking to fellow rising seniors and recent graduates . It was extremely rewarding to hear their insightful, unique takes on their journeys through Duke. I enjoyed the thoughtful silences where participants would really think about the question, and the feedback they would give afterwards about how our interviews gave them the much needed space to think about the people they had become through their experiences. 

Hearing from faculty was like opening a window to a side of Duke that had always been shrouded in mystery. I was positively surprised by the candour and vulnerability of the professors that I spoke to. And was struck by the disconnect that faculty often have from students, despite our importance in each other’s lives. I also enjoyed hearing from staff, people who are essential to Duke, yet we very rarely hear from. Their perspectives offered something very valuable, but completely different from faculty and students. By the end of the understand phase, I felt I had a much better understanding of what Duke is, who its people are and what they want or need from their community. 

Overall, I learned that this kind of qualitative research- interviewing- is definitely something I want to do a lot more of in the future. Even if I am not speaking to people I have a direct relationship or shared experience with, the acts of crafting thoughtful questions, listening carefully, recognising the flow of the conversation, reassuring participants when they need it and finding the core insights from the conversation, is extremely fulfilling. I learned that I am good at asking critical and thoughtful questions, and working with participants to draw out  those key insights. The understand phase was a great way to apply many of the things I’d learned as an ICS student, in classes on ethnography and research seminars. As I prepare to conduct interviews for my thesis research, I now feel a lot more confident in my abilities.



After 3 weeks of persuading the students to put their solutions in the back of their minds, last week they dived into ideation. The process took them out from their comfort zone and based on their reflections, it was also deeply satisfactory to open their minds to the outlandish and unbelievable, leading many ideas run free.

“Moving to the “Create” phase, this meant embracing the “yes, and” mindset”

By: Zsofia Walter

As an engineer, I have utilized design thinking and gone through the ideation process many times over the past year. The differences between the ideation I’ve done in my engineering courses versus the ideation we’ve done in this program are small but impactful. 

The structure that the leadership team has set up forces us to remain problem and user oriented. In the “Create” phase it is easy to become entranced by a cool idea and just run with it regardless of whether or not it fulfills the needs you set out to meet. Resisting that urge, and pushing to keep coming back to “what is the real problem our user is facing” has been key throughout this phase.

An important thing I have learned is to withhold my initial “knee-jerk” reaction. In the “Understand” phase this meant that in interviews I wouldn’t jump in and lead the conversation when they said something I found compelling. It also meant that I would try to resist thinking of solutions to the problems I was presented with, rather simply focusing on empathizing. 

Moving to the “Create” phase, this meant embracing the “yes, and” mindset. It was crucial to hold back the initial criticisms that came to mind during ideation, focusing on listening and appreciating every idea regardless of feasibility. As it turns out, the idea we now have, which I am incredibly passionate about, I initially thought was crazy and impossible to execute. Not shooting it down, and keeping myself open minded has led to the development of a concept I think could truly change the community at Duke.


“The “yes, and” ethos also emphasizes the open-minded and collaborative feature of the design thinking process”

By: Sanya Uppal

Compared to the understand phase, I have found the create stage to be more natural and instinctive. Yet, to develop and frame a concept that solves the needs we identified demands an exploration of ideas and creative thinking that is almost as challenging as determining our problem space. This week has pushed my team to brainstorm and find the values that we celebrate. Having a shared purpose has informed our ideation process and cemented our desire to succeed and fully realize the opportunities we have in this program.

During the create stage, my initial inclination was to reject ideas that seemed to diverge from our purpose or “how might we” statement. However, as I received more feedback, I began to adopt the “yes, and” mindset and realized the importance of allowing ideas to flow in a space without any constraint. It was highly encouraging and inspiring when some of our “outlandish” ideas became the center of our concept. The “yes, and” ethos also emphasizes the open-minded and collaborative feature of the design thinking process.

The most challenging aspect has been to consolidate and synthesize the multitude of ideas and different perspectives of each and every member of my team. It has made it difficult to form a comprehensible concept and prototype without spiraling into several different directions. However, this has also presented the greatest opportunity for growth and learning. Finding the relationship between different ideas and understanding their connection to our purpose has been extremely rewarding. 


“Once you retrain your mind to thrive in a collaborative environment, you begin to notice the wonderful impacts it has”

By: Marcus Ortiz

“I am Iron Man”, or at the very least, “I am Great Value Iron Man”. Whether it is making a wall of sticky notes or having brand new, innovative, and collaborative ideas with my team; the create phase has easily been my favorite part of the design process thus far. Quite honestly, the most fitting word to describe the create phase is simply fun. Combining what we have been building towards for the past three weeks is just so exciting!

However, the significance of the create phase doesn’t lie in the amusement I have in it, but in how much I have grown because of it. Particularly, in fostering a “yes, and” mindset to encourage collaboration, which has easily been the most difficult aspect of the create phase. It is quite disheartening that our minds are almost trained to doubt ideas rather than encourage and build upon them. However, once you retrain your mind to thrive in a collaborative environment, you begin to notice the wonderful impacts it has. Rather than scrapping an idea filled to the brim with potential, we are able to tap into that potential and create the best possible solution for the user.

By using this collaborative mindset to build on ideas, our team was able to come to a solution that we all love! Now that we have narrowed down our vision, we can not wait to continue innovating it!


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