Week 11: Colin Raney (IDEO) and a workshop with Anjum Asharia (Rev-)

In class this week, we had 2 guests: Colin Raney, the Managing Director of IDEO’s Massachusetts office and Anjum Asharia, Program Director with Rev- and member of the Rev-/BIC project team.

Colin Raney, Managing Director of IDEO’s Massachusetts Office:
IDEO is a design firm that works on a wide range of design problems from brand development, to product design, to process design.  Colin spoke to us about some projects that IDEO has worked on and how they apply “human-centered design thinking” to their work, attempting to understand and find “empathy” with people who are part of the design challenges they are addressing.

He feels that IDEO practices codesign, but doesn’t talk about it. He said, “Clients hire us for outcomes and impact, so they speak about their products and not as much about their processes.”  He’s particularly interested in codesign, however and in methods that ask questions of designers.  Design thinking, he says, suggests that anyone can be a designer; codesign also suggests this, and requires that members of a design process facilitate one another to be designers.

For live notes from Colin’s talk, check out our class notes: http://brownbag.me:9001/p/codesign13-Week11

Design Workshop with Anjum Asharia – Character Design and Media Making for the Claro Que Si hotline project
Anjum Asharia is a Program Director with Rev- and has joined our class this term as a project partner in the Rev-/BIC team.   Anjum led us through a workshop during class to become more familiar with the work of this project team and to engage us as participants in their design process and media making.

The team is developing a hotline based on New Day New Standard, produced by Rev- and DWU to serve as an information hotline for nannies and employers to learn about the labor rights that are a part of the 2010 New York Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.

Anjum walked us through calling New Day New Standard, (646) 699-3989.  We each called from our own phones to experience the hotline as a caller and shared our thoughts about what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what is difficult to understand:

Some of our feedback:
what we liked: content
 is simple; quick to go from place to place; thought that the episode would be exciting; the main narrator, Christine’s voice and energy;

what we didn’t like: 
long quiet gap between choosing episode and hearing; 
doubted that the episode would be exciting; was good because we’re in a quiet place, walking through a city would be hard; would be useful if there were shortcodes to listen to episodes and bypass the menu;

what is confusing: a little confusing to have the pieces be called episodes but be about topics;


We spoke about the importance of the characters in New Day New Standard and then did a design exercise to imagine what the character for the BIC project, “Clara Que Si” might be like, taking 5 minutes to work independently, drawing a portrait of Clara and writing out what her age is, what she says, and what she sounds like.

The team will use these drawings and ideas to develop the script and character further.

Our final activity together was to contribute to the making of some of the content for the hotline!  Anjum introduced the story that we were contributing to.  The story is about bedbugs and she would record us as we made the sounds of bedbugs at a party.  Some of us made sounds of bedbugs whistling, others shouting excitedly, and others, eating.

*nom nom*

Urbano: Case Study Draft

This week, our efforts have been focused on the case study draft and working on our final iteration. Some of our team members went to Urbano to gather feedback about user experience and interactions (see our sketch model below, we’re waiting for components to arrive in the mail)

sketch model

Our case study is still a work-in-progress. You can view it here!


ZUMIX Radio Update

This past week has been quiet, but productive. Each of the team members has been working on individual components of the larger project. Qian created a basic template version of the website we’ll use for our final documentation. More pictures and content will be added later, as we finalize things. She’s also planning to add more colors and play around with the theme. Qian is also taking on Sasha’s recommendation for us to make an instructables site, which can be completed after Carrie finishes CADding and laser cutting (because we get to do cool stuff like CAD and cutting things with lasers in this group!). Over the weekend, Carrie produced a first version of the CAD model. Some issues with the dimensions required a “redo,” but the final model is finished and the laser cutting should be complete by class time on Tuesday!

On the less technical side of things, Ashwin and Courtney have been searching for our team’s back-up Plan B, the old-time radio. We’ve found some leads on craigslist, but haven’t been able to locate one that meets our specifications or price point. Ashwin and Courtney have also been working to craft the case study narrative and workshop template, which is still in draft form.
We’re looking forward to seeing the laser cut Flying Z guitar this week. We’re also looking forward to another workshop with the youth DJs on December 2, when they’ll put the finishing touches on the radio-guitar. We’ll keep you posted!

Drafting the Toolkit

Having returned to the drawing board to gather more game ideas, this week we fleshed these out and considered how each speaks to one of the CLVU campaigns. One of the new game ideas will be tested at the corner of Prospect/Magazine and Mass Ave in Central Square, Cambridge from 3-5 pm on Monday December 2nd. If it works and we get positive feedback, we will incorporate it into the final toolkit along with the Corn Hole game. Our next focus group, which will be held with the CLVU member leadership team, will take up a third game. Our goal is to have 2-3 working games to include in the final toolkit.

We are still debating what format to use for our website and what, if any, additional media components to include as supplements or complements to the online toolkit.

The toolkit outline, including some draft text and current game ideas, is included below:


Who we are
Mike – City Life/Vida Urbana communications coordinator
Terry – community organizer/founder of Intelligent Mischief (a civic media hack lab)
Nene – youth worker/MIT urban planning student
Dara – former legal/housing advocate/MIT urban planning student

Background: The issue
City Life/Vida Urbana has been supporting tenant organizing to preserve housing affordability and resist displacement since their inception in the 1970s. Since the foreclosure crisis post-2007, CLVU has worked with tenants and homeowners facing eviction and foreclosure to help them stay in their homes. As the number of foreclosures has decreased, the narrative that the foreclosure crisis is over has risen. CLVU staff, however, continue to see people suffering foreclosures and evictions. They have seen housing prices rise as private investors buy up vacated homes and flip them for a quick profit. In these trends, CLVU recognizes the formation of a new housing bubble and wants to avoid a return to “bubble economics” by challenging the dominant narrative with one that reflects the experience of its members in Boston, and the working poor nationwide.

We came together in the MIT Media Lab course on Co-Design in the fall of 2013. Our goal was to develop an alternative narrative that addressed the systemic crisis that CLVU was helping households in Greater Boston address. We wanted this narrative to connect CLVU’s campaigns three campaigns, which fight eviction foreclosures, resist gentrification, and shed light on real estate investors who are turning a profit on foreclosed homes. We aimed to situate our project in a broader national economic context because we knew Bostonians weren’t the only ones struggling to stay afloat and retain their homes.

How to use this toolkit
We have created this toolkit with the expectation that it will be adapted, that it will serve as a starting point for activists to bring the issues most pressing to their communities into the public eye. We have designed an interactive model because we believe an engaging, social, tactile experience will enable the synthesis needed to shift how we think about the economic injustices of our times. It isn’t only the housing game that’s rigged. Use this toolkit to investigate the way the systems that most impact your community are structured, and to educate your community about what you learn. Use it to imagine how you would like to change these systems. Use it to connect with people who can help.  Ready? Okay, let’s go and Change the Game!

The Carnival
Carnival games promise a fun time and a big prize. But how many of us have ever won a carnival game? How many have actually gotten that big stuffed animal prize? Very few. Why? Because the carnival games are rigged so that it’s almost impossible to win. Similarly, the housing market promises a coveted reward, while the mortgage-lending practices that led to the 2008 market crash made it impossible for consumers to “win” that game either. However, much more is at stake in the housing “game.” Homebuyers’ and renters’ life savings and hard work go into their homes, whether in rent, mortgages, maintenance or improvements. A fair market is supposed to be fair, not a carnivalesque game of tricks and mirrors, promising rewards it never delivers.

Housing Narrative: three campaigns, related by a story:


  • Cornhole:
  • Three holes:
    • Top – $50,000
    • Bottom two – $25,000
    • Board – $10,000
  • Goal is to to make $72,150
  • Jelly Bean Guess


  • Musical Chairs


  • Tarot card reader
  • Shell Game, or Who’s holding your loan?
  • Hot Potato


  • Pop a balloon: show that bubbles — like housing bubbles — do pop
  • Communal Mural


Format of the Carnival


Call to Action/Next Steps

Appendix A:
The group convened under the goals set forth by our community partner City Life/Vida Urbana, and CLVU’s liaison Mike Leyba. We began by meeting with CLVU Executive Director Curdina Hill, who grounded us in a firm understanding of the organization’s history, mission, and current issue areas. Early in our process, Nene and Terry led the group in a “They Say, We Say” exercise in which we responded to dominant problematic arguments about the housing crisis. The counter-arguments we developed in this exercise served as a guide for us to return to throughout the process.

Each step was iterative: we met weekly outside of class to revisit the last steps in our process, determine our next steps, and ground these in the overarching concept, which was itself in constant development. At key points, we integrated the feedback and participation of others. We brought our ideas to the CLVU member leadership team several times, and incorporated their recommendations. The course professors offered criticism. We tested our design in focus groups with the leadership team, our classmates, and the public. We used class time to brainstorm design concepts and ideas, again referring to the points derived from the “They Say, We Say exercise.”

Urbano Team Update: Purchasing!

Apologies for the late blog post… hopefully late is better than never. I personally wasn’t able to attend the last couple of meetings due to traveling and things being scheduled when I have class, but I will do my best to summarize what’s been passed along through emails.

After discussing suitcase options with our project partners, Aditi ordered this one, which is 29″, from ebay for us (thanks!), and it is expected to arrive next week. Some members of the team spoke with Sasha about using Vine an Vojo and issues with pulling feeds of relevant content, and he suggested that Birkan, who is our lead web developer, meet with Ed Platt (developer at Center for Civic Media) for guidance.

We had originally wanted to purchase an Acer touchscreen and a 32GB microSD card to go with it, but we realized that these didn’t actually support Vine. After some discussion, we decided to go with two Kindle Fires 8.9″ tablets so we could keep the Vine + RSS feed idea. These should hopefully arrive by Tuesday of the coming week.

REV- / BIC “Claro Que Si!” Update

After reviewing our presentation feedback our team has decided to change some things to make our Co-Design process more transparent. We realized this was an issue since there are many partners helping out in this project and it was hard to make clear who was doing what.

We have not documented the process as well as possible to show exactly how we are interacting and including domestic workers in our project. Mostly since REV- is the only part of the team that has had the time to meet with domestic workers in person. This project is following the Co-Design process, it just takes a lot of intermediaries to close the feedback loop.

An example of how our process works, which wasn’t explained well during our presentation, is how our characters for our hotline are being designed. After holding ideation sessions with both domestic workers and all project partners (NEU, MIT Students and REV-) we collected sketches and compiled them.



I made vectors out of the sketches which REV- took back to show domestic workers at BIC.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 12.44.49 AM

With that feedback from those sessions I am now currently redesigning the characters. This closes the loop of communication. Once I make edits they will again be given to REV- which will share them with domestic workers for final approval.

Christian Landeros will be in charge of starting and maintaining the documentation of our project. I will continue to design the graphics for our campaign as well as begin our tumblr based website. Alexandre Goncalves (as well as the rest of the MIT Co-Design Team) will be ensuring that we can start user testing our hotline as soon as possible in the next two weeks.





Brief Update

On Thursday, we talked for a while about how we need to not only create a specific narrative around the housing crisis, but also a broader narrative around capitalism so that other individuals/organizations can adapt the games to the justice issues they work on.  The toolkit will address both narratives.

We also started to flesh out how the carnival will be set up — how will people move through the carnival (in groups or not) and if there will be a ‘ringleader’ of sorts navigating people through the current housing market system or just a barker at every game who can tell part of the narrative.

We realized that we were creating the games in isolation of the narrative we were trying to get across, and we need to link them together. So we also worked on fleshing out the overall narrative we are trying to convey, which will combine the three CL/VU campaigns, and are ensuring that the games will fit into that narrative.

For our meeting this Thursday:

Nene will create an outline that will serve as the foundation of the toolkit

Terry will create a solutions game

Mike will get us another meeting with the BTA leadership team so we can playtest games/get ideas for how to tie data points to specific games.

Dara will continue to flesh out a narrative around the housing crisis that will more coherently connect to the games.


ZUMIX Update and Presentation Reflection

Most of the feedback we received about our presentation was positive, so we feel like we are on the right track. Most of the work that remains to be done is actually building the physical radio and evaluating/testing our work.

This week, Carrie made a small cardboard model of the design that can be used as a precise basis for laser cutting the acrylic casing. Below are images of her design. However, before we can actually build the physical product, we need to decide on a final design or designs.


We have also purchased a smart internet radio from Amazon and we are working on having it stream ZUMIX radio. We are currently have some technological issues regarding this aspect, but it should work in theory and we will hopefully solve this problem.


It has been hard getting everyone together during the week, so we plan on meeting after class tomorrow to plan out the next step and finalize decisions for going forward. Stay tuned.

Class Week 10: CoLab and project presentations

This week Dayna Cunningham, Executive Director of MIT CoLab, came to speak to the class about the group’s work and 25-year history.

Among several examples, she described how CoLab is supporting waste pickers living on islands off Nicaragua to improve their economic prospects and explained the Shared Wealth project in the Bronx.

Dayna explained that the organization’s goal – and that of Participatory Action Research – is to identify problems collaboratively. It has an explicit social justice orientation: to change the world, make it better and to improve democracy. As groups of citizens are identifying important problems and figuring out how to address them, the mission of groups like CoLab is to support them.

That’s not the same as consensus building. Dayna said CoLab’s approach is an alternative to Habermas’ idea that it’s possible to create a set of rules and processes that produce authentic agreement.

“That’s a noble ideal, but my perspective is that democracy is never finished and it’s necessary to constantly interrogate contradictions, appearances of agreement where disagreement exists.”

“Democracy is not about stabilizing in a place where we’re all happy.  It’s about having conversations that surface disagreements and moving in a productive, generative way forward from problem identification,” she said.

You can read the live notes of Dayna’s talk here.

In the second half of the class the groups gave their mid-term project presentations:

City Life / Vida Urbana

ZUMIX Update: 2nd Project Iteration and Presentation

Following feedback from the class exercise and the first project iteration, we have decided on the some changes for our ZUMIX radio project.

On the technical side, we have decided to purchase a smart radio that comes with the capability to stream internet radio instead of building our own with a raspberry pi. This will save us a lot of time not reinventing the wheel and will be more maintainable once we hand off the project. Originally, we discussed using a 3D printer to print out the final product, but since it is hard to get access to one, we have now decided to laser cut acrylic(hard clear plastic) sheets and piece it together.

At the last design workshop, the youth DJs came up with a few models for how the outward appearance of the radio should look. Going forward, we will choose one of them for laser cutting so that we will have a solid outer casing that the youth can then decorate. We will put our smart radio inside the casing and attach speakers for the final product.Carrie researched some of the qualities and specs we want in a speaker and have come up with 3 candidate choices. The research on speakers is found here.

Last class, someone had suggested that we put a phone next to our radio so people can call in and put in song requests. We thought that was a cool idea and would address some of the social impact challenges we had regarding this project. In particular, one concern we had after the FAIL workshop was that this project would get neglected, so the phone is a good idea for making it more interactive and interesting.

Our presentation is a work in progress and can be viewed here.