Instituto Co-Design Project Brief

Context, Outputs of listening methods

Existing web platform

The current website platform uses a WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) visual editor. That makes it very user friendly for the staff, while limiting layout options, interaction possibilities, etc. It also includes features to schedule, make plans, and other procedural tasks common in the education sector. It also includes a built-in form creator, and response collection platform.

Existing success stories

Existing documented success stories have been collected largely for the purposes of annual reports. There are a few in the form of a paragraph-long third-person narrative and picture of someone who went through a program, alongside some statistics about that program as a whole. Others are a page long with an accompanying photo. These stories are all in English, and are not shared out with the community in a systematic way.

Examples from other community organizations

I looked at three organizations’ online presence to get an idea of how other organizations serving a Spanish- and English-speaking population share their work online. There were some useful ideas, but nothing that addressed the challenges in an ideal way. I might need to ask more people for resources/models to take inspiration from.

Literature Search

A Pew survey of US Latino news media sources suggests that using online methods might be a good way of reaching Millenials and Gen X Latino populations, with a lower share of Baby Boomers (though still a significant amount). That same survey also suggests that we should put materials online in Spanish to reach a foreign-born population, which community partners noted in observations of response when material is put online in Spanish.

current work process

The current process to collect success stories is pretty involved. It involves connecting with clients via program staff, interviewing the clients, asking for a photo submission, and writing it up to varying lengths for use in materials like an annual report.

Ecosystem Map

Highest priority personas

In thinking about this design project, it is helpful to think about a few key personas that we can imagine interacting with our design in some way. For this design, we are focusing on communications staff, Spanish-speaking clients, and funders.

Anticipated Challenges


One key challenge is that templates, workflows, solutions must be able to stand on their own. Ideally they won’t even require new accounts for free online services. Money, time, and energy are all valuable resources and the best effort needs to be made to conserve time and energy in a project without a budget.

Multiple Audiences

I have a sense of a tension between wanting to give funders a clearer idea of what Instituto does, as well as giving local community members a better idea of what Instituto does. The messages we would want to send to both groups come from the same place, but might need to emphasize different things or take different forms. I think a significant challenge will be coming up with a process that can either speak to both at the same time, or easily enough lead to multiple outputs from the same source material.

Next steps

  • Talk with other people doing communications work within my networks.
  • Create lo-fi prototypes for more concrete feedback from others at Instituto. None of the items mentioned above takes that much effort for me to produce an unpolished version with existing materials or placeholder text/media.

Questions for the class

  • Have you seen any community organizations taking a bilingual approach to online communication, which could serve as a model?
  • Do you have any ideas about how to make this process/outputs more relevant to educational programs and participants themselves?
  • I feel like I’m a little too limited in my thinking right now. What are some wild ideas you have about this communication topic, without any regard to feasibility? I could use some out-there inspiration.

ATHack through a Design Justice Lens

For this blog entry, I am writing about ATHack 2019, an assistive technology hackathon at MIT. I examine its strengths and its opportunities for improvement through the lens of Design Justice Principles.

Personal Notes

I find it important to note a few things before presenting my reflections on the event:

  1. I have not had the lived experience of disability. These reflections come from my own attempts to think more critically about my role as an ally.
  2. I had a small part in helping to prepare the ATHack event this year, and my main planning contributions were around documentation. I present only my own personal views here.
  3. Related to the above, I had a positive impression of the organizers and the event itself before going into it. I aim to present constructive criticism in this blog post that I can build on as I hope to have a more active role in planning next year’s event.
  4. I will not really dive into an examination of the politics around the category of “assistive” tech. That could be a whole article of its own (in this case, one written by Sara Hendren).

ATHack Overview

ATHack is a student-led hackathon at MIT focused on assistive technology, i.e. technology designed specifically for the needs of people with disabilities. Within the broad terrain of accessibility and assistive technology, ATHack has a specific scope of social and educational goals, as written in its mission statement:

Our mission is to make the world more accessible to everyone
 by building connections within our community and fostering collaborative efforts to create inclusive technology. Through ATHack, we introduce students to the fun (and challenging) design space of assistive technology while building connections between community members, engineers, and designers. We hope to inspire participants to pursue projects in the AT space in the future.

The event’s central concept is that the planning team matches student “hacker” teams to form a partnership with a “co-designer”. Co-designers are people living with disabilities who come in with a design challenge/prompt to collaborate on with hackers, typically based off of a hurdle they face in daily life. There is an open call for participant applications, though there is a (flexible) emphasis on attending two in-person events at MIT. The primary purpose of the applications is to ensure a certain level of commitment to the 3-week timeline of the event, as well as a good fit with the event’s overall goal of a collaborative learning process, rather than a completely ready-to-deploy project.

Event Format

The event is split into 2 parts. The first is an introductory dinner where hackers meet co-designers, learn about their particular design prompts, and submit an online preference list for which co-designer’s team they’d like to join. After a matching process by the event organizers, teams have about three weeks to get to know each other, learn more about the co-designer’s problem space, brainstorm, and order materials for from the event organizers. The second part of the event is a 12-hour hackathon, ending with brief project presentations and an awards ceremony in which teams are honored for categories including usability, innovation, and documentation.

Design Justice Strengths

The major strengths of this event as seen through a Design Justice lens come from its emphasis on a collaborative design process that centers the expertise of a co-designer.

Co-Designer Collaboration

The organizers are very purposeful about their language, framing, and event organization to set the tone that hackers are addressing design challenges with co-designers, not for co-designers. The most obvious way this comes across is in the language around co-designers. Importantly, the structure of the event underscores this message as well. Teams are given a few weeks so that all team members can learn more from the co-designer about their specific design prompt. Teams are expected to learn from the expertise of their co-designers, and they are expected to be able to show how their project meets the needs and engages with the contributions of their co-designer. This learning process centers the co-designer, and can include activities ranging from interviews to tagging along on a typical commute or shopping trip.

Collaborative Flexibility

There is a lot of flexibility in how co-designer teams are arranged. Some co-designers have formal engineering backgrounds and come in with prototypes or concepts to iterate over with a team in terms familiar to them. Others come in with a rich understanding of a particular problem space, and they’re looking for a team who can help brainstorm solutions and test them out. Some want firsthand experience in every stage of the design process, while others would rather provide expertise/feedback at particular stages. Some collaborate with their teams independently, while others collaborate along with parents or caretakers. The event is organized such that none of these differences in collaborative process is treated as the norm or as the ideal. There is no “best” way to collaborate, but there are processes that are better fits for individual teams.

The 3-week lead-up to the hackathon event also allows for increased options for remote collaborators. Hackers and co-designers who couldn’t make it to the hackathon event due to unforeseen circumstances were still able to meaningfully engage remotely day-of thanks to the time spent collaborating ahead of time.

Emphasis on Real-World Needs

At the introductory dinner, event organizers stress that a good design isn’t necessarily one that uses the newest and flashiest technologies. A good design is one that meets the needs of the person who will use it, and there is a usability award at the end of the hackathon to honor that. A good design is also one that is documented well enough that the process can be repeated, and there is a documentation award at the end of the hackathon to honor that.

As with many hackathons, this event has a few big-name corporate sponsors . However, unlike many other hackathons, their involvement is very minimal. Sponsors do not receive participant resumes, and they do not send any promotional materials to the event. This greatly reduces any incentive a team might have to build a flashy but unusable tool that might grab the attention of an outside onlooker.

Design Justice Opportunities for Improvement

Where the event succeeds in centering voices of co-designers on individual teams, it could improve on its own organization process to follow the co-design model in planning the event itself. If there is difficulty in recruiting event co-designers, maybe the first iteration of this process improvement could be in the form of an advisory committee of particularly engaged co-designers from past hackathons.

Planning Follow-Up

In class, we talked about the benefits of engaging community partners and co-designers in hackathons, but we did not talk about the challenges of follow-up with them. Event follow-up is a tricky subject for hackathons that promote strong, short-term personal connection with co-designers. How do teams navigate a situation where they don’t get as far with projects as they thought they would? What about when they get farther than they imagined, and their project seems like it could be quite close to being deployable? The event organizers say in the application and at both in-person events that participants are not expected to work on their project beyond the timeline of the hackathon. However, some teams are very excited to continue work on their project past the timeline of the hackathon. It’s not hard to imagine teams’ expectations may fall out of alignment as people get caught up in the excitement of the day’s progress or in the disappointment of not accomplishing everything they thought they would. I wonder what it would look like to adapt a Working Agreement for use in this context so it’s accessible and non-intimidating for everyone involved? Is there a guided conversation teams can have built in to the hackathon schedule, to discuss whether and how they want to continue work on their project?

Linking Out to Advocacy Issues

ATHack targets the scope of its projects to its educational goals and its timeline. The hackathon projects end up targeting a specific individual experience, which makes a lot of sense for a short-term commitment. However, evident in many of the presentations at the end of the hackathon is the fact that the co-designers’ experiences are not just their own. They come in with design challenges in the context of broader issues, for example: existing assistive technology that doesn’t assume the active lifestyle they lead, existing assistive technology that’s not very usable independently, or lack of accessible options for an activity of daily life. Some co-designers call these broader issues out specifically, while others do not. I wonder what it might look like to be able to link event attendees with local advocacy groups that might be pushing for industry/policy change, or service organizations that focus on disability. Could there be brief presentations from such groups at the closing dinner/ceremony at the end of the hackathon? Could the organizers invite representatives from these local organizations to be judges at the hackathon, or sit and talk with participants at the closing dinner?

Managing Space

The hackathon is hosted in the Beaver Works space, with a few distinct rooms for group work. The room where most of the software-focused teams were working was a little hard to navigate once teams were settled in and working there. Though there is probably a little more room to rearrange the space for better accessibility, the most straightforward solution is probably to reduce the number of software-focused teams. Alternatively, there might be space for a spillover room for participants, since it’s easier to find a space suitable for teams working on software projects. However, both of these potential solutions come with serious downsides for the event, and a spillover room creates more potential logistic issues, like the ones this event faced due to inclement weather.

Overall, the rest of the physical setup works when everyone is not in the same room, which basically only happens at the end of the day. This is typically in a different venue on campus more suited for all the participants to navigate at the same time. However, this year there was a last-minute change in location for the event closing, due to inclement weather. In responding to participant concerns in getting to the other campus location in snowy conditions, the event closing ended up being in a space that wasn’t really suited for it. I think it’s easy to say that there should be a better Plan B for that kind of situation, but I am not sure what that would actually look like. A combination of lab/classroom/workshop spaces works really well for this hackathon, but not well for a dinner or closing ceremony, and vice versa. This might be a case where an advisory board or co-designers for the event itself could help find a suitable back-up plan, or a completely new way to think about closing the event.

Project Speculation

This week, I am speculating about my project I am working on with Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago. I am using the framework outlined by Christopher Frauenberger et al. in their paper “In pursuit of rigour and accountability in participatory design.”


  • Kinds of knowledge constructed
    • The biggest form of knowledge I see myself gaining is around the collaborative process. I hope that all project partners can learn more about what forms of communication and organization will work in this context to accomplish our goals of collecting and sharing out success stories from within the organization.
  • Degree of trust in the knowledge
    • I hope that the stories we are able to collect as  result of this design collaboration feel genuine and connected to what’s actually going on in the city. I hope to enable the creation of stories that people trust and that people feel a personal connection to.
  • Potential for transfer
    • It would be nice to see a workflow and supporting tools that could be shared freely online.
  • Sharing of knowledge
    • I hope that I am able to help design a system of sharing and collecting stories from my community organization partner that allows community members and a wider public to see the assets and successes of Pilsen/Chicago.


  • Driving values
    • I think the driving values of this project are respect for community of Pilsen and equity in decision-making.
  • Change of values in the process
    • I don’t forsee any changes of values in this process. But I do hope that project partners feel comfortable pointing out when values seem to have shifted unintentionally, or when they need to shift to respond to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Reflection of values in the decisions
    • I hope that all decisions are agreed upon with regards to the goals and expectations of this project as agreed upon at the beginning of the collaboration process. I hope this shared understanding will contribute to mutual trust and shared ownership of decisions made. And I hope my project partner’s immersion in the community they serve help guide me to learn about any of my own blindspots I may have in my current position as a student at MIT.


  • Different interpretations of outcomes
    • I hope the interpretations of outcomes are pretty well aligned, owing to work put in at the beginning of the collaboration to align expectations and goals
  • Owner of outcomes
    • Instituto will be the owner of the outcome, though I hope that a process we come up with can be shared more widely to other organizations that might be able to benefit from what we learn.
  • Sustainability of outcomes
    • I hope that the outcome of this project is a process that can be used for several years.


  • Stakeholders
    • Right now, the stakeholders in this process are the folks at Instituto and myself. It would be nice if
  • Participants
    • I hope that we are able to share out the success stories of the community that Instituto serves in a way that affirms and creates joy. I also hope that there might be a way to share stories back with the community in a way that makes them accessible and enjoyable memories/commemorations.
  • Benefits for stakeholders and participants
    • Instituto will have a tool/workflow that helps fill a communication need, and I hope the participants are able to feel celebrated and affirmed, and possibly have access to a recording of their success in an enjoyable way.
  • End of project
    • When this project ends, I hope that I am able to integrate this work with other projects I am working on with Instituto, and help maintain/refine this project as needed. However, I do hope that this project can develop something useful for Instituto, that they are able to sustain without much outside intervention. I hope I can help share any lessons learned with other similar groups as well.

Hello, World! It’s me, Sam.

I’m Samuel R. Mendez, and everyone outside of my family usually just calls me Sam. I’m an artist and researcher from Chicago.

In this semester’s codesign studio, I mainly hope to support ongoing work in the Boston area around some aspect of social equity. My focus in my academic work is usually some aspect of health equity. It’ll be interesting to see how this focus can bring something useful to the table for an organization working on a topic that might not seem directly related at first glance. I’m super excited to learn from people who have been focusing on a different set of social issues than I’ve been.

On the production side of this class, I have skills in animation, video, and basic front-end web development. I’m constantly exploring new methods of expressing ideas and bringing people together to discuss them. Most recently that’s included performing and writing short stage pieces. I enjoy the surprises that pop up when I’m helping to figure out what methods are best suited to realize a certain idea and accomplish engagement goals. In this codesign studio, I’m looking forward to the process of exploration and finding the right methods to help a community organization further its goals through a specific project.

An abstract representation of the collaborative design process: a triangle surrounded by squiggly lines on each side and thick, short curved lines on each point. Three thinner, shorter curved lines surround the squiggly-line shape in an outer layer.
An abstract representation of the collaborative design process: a triangle surrounded by squiggly lines on each side and thick, short curved lines on each point. Three thinner, shorter curved lines surround the squiggly-line shape in an outer layer.

I think the codesign process should be something that invites codesigners to flip on its head, rotate, take apart, and toss around to find the best angle from which to approach their goals. I think it should be a cycle without a very clear starting or ending point, both exciting and challenging in its flexibility. I represented these qualities through my abstract image in our “Name That Tech” exercise.

As such, I don’t yet have a clear idea of what I want to work on in this studio. I hope to find the area where I can best contribute by learning more about some of the projects and groups that classmates have connections to.